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No to Hassockfield national demonstration

No to Hassockfield national demonstration. Photo: Janice Hutton

Protesters in the North East took aim at the government's inhumane detention of vulnerable women seeking asylum, reports Lynne Saunders

The 'No to Hassockfield' campaign started in response to the Home Office opening an immigration detention centre for women in a remote part of Durham. Now known as Derwentside, this was formerly the site of Medomsley detention centre between the 1960s and 1980s, infamous for its widespread abuse of inmates between 17 and 21 years of age.

Local demonstrations have taken place on a monthly basis at the site in the hope that they can be heard by the detained women.

On an unusually warm day for the North East, the national demonstration took place on Palace Green in the grounds of Durham Cathedral. It was well attended by between three and five hundred people. There was a lively atmosphere and a range of speakers, musicians, poets, and a colourful array of banners from anti racist and community groups.

Speakers included the poet Kate Fox, Mary Foy MP, Afghan author Gulwali Passarlay, Agnes Tanoh from Women for Refugee Women, and Rosa Salih, the first refugee to be elected to a Scottish council. She came to this country as a child refugee and has fiercely campaigned on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers since she was a teenager. 

Music was supplied by David McAllister, Bethany Elen Coyle, Ron Brown and a fantastic drumming group. 

A common theme running through speeches was the additional trauma imposed by detention on women already severely traumatised by their experiences of war and oppression. Also mentioned was the expense of this detention compared to community alternatives, and the general inhumanity shown to those in need of compassion, safety and security. 

The backdrop of Durham Cathedral, which still retains its centuries-old sanctuary knocker, served as a reminder of the need for compassion and humanity. 

Chants of 'Refugees Are Welcome Here', 'Set Her Free' and 'Close It Down' reflected these sentiments in the crowd.

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