On Saturday 14 May 2022, local residents and campaigners, including Agnes Tanoh (Women for Refugee Women), Mary Kelly Foy MP and Gulwali Passarlay, held a national demonstration against the detention of women at Derwentside detention centre.
Over 500 local people joined together with organisations from across the UK to protest against the locking up of vulnerable women, with many wearing orange – the colour of the ‘refugee nation’ flag and of a lifebelt – to signify their support for refugee and asylum-seeking individuals.
The Home Office began detaining women at Derwentside in County Durham on the 28th of December 2021. The detention centre has capacity for 84 women to be locked up at any one time, and replaces Yarl’s Wood as the main site where women are detained for immigration purposes.
Protestors are concerned that:
- Detention is deeply retraumatising and harmful. Research has shown that the majority of women who are locked up in immigration detention are survivors of serious human rights abuses, including torture, rape and trafficking (1).
- Immigration detention is unnecessary. The Home Office states that detention is a last resort prior to removing a person from the country, but the vast majority of women locked up in detention are released back into the community to continue with their cases. In 2019, 92% of asylum-seeking women leaving detention were released back into the community, so their detention served no purpose (2). Women’s immigration cases can be more effectively and humanely resolved without the use of detention, and at a far less cost, in the community.
- Women are being held in Derwentside detention centre without access to justice. Unlike in other detention centres where men are detained, women at Derwentside are only able to access legal advice over the phone. This can have severely damaging consequences for women in detention. It can result in delays in release from detention, their credibility being questioned in asylum and trafficking cases, and inaccurate or incomplete legal advice. Women for Refugee Women are taking the Home Office to court to challenge the practice of locking up women without access to justice (3).
This new detention centre is located less than 30 minutes away from Durham City Centre. The opening of this facility goes against, and completely undermines, Durham’s ‘City of Sanctuary’ status, and proud history of welcome, inclusivity and equality. The location of the protest, Palace Green, is home to the famous Durham Cathedral’s ‘Sanctuary Knocker’. Anyone who used the ‘Sanctuary Knocker’ would be offered respite, food, drink, bedding and other necessities.
At no point were local people consulted about the potential uses of the site. They have expressed disappointment and anger that the location of the former Medomsley Detention Centre has been reopened as another site of misery, prolonging the terrible history of abuse, violence and trauma associated with its existence. Many locals have joined forces with individuals who have experienced the hostile immigration environment to campaign against the opening and existence of Derwentside Immigration Prison.
The timing of demonstration is particularly important given recent announcements of the extension of the detention regime overseas. The Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda is cruel and inhumane and will subject those seeking sanctuary to further harm and abuse.
Here are the words of individuals who will all be speaking at the demonstration:
Agnes Tanoh, Detention Campaign Spokesperson at Women for Refugee Women who started a petition against the new detention centre that has been signed by over 16,700 people, says:
“I know how detention destroys a woman, because I was locked up for over three months at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, before the Government accepted that I am a refugee. I witnessed the suffering of vulnerable women while I was there.
The Government promised to reduce its use of detention because of the harm it causes, but they broke this promise by opening Derwentside detention centre – the first one to open in over 7 years.
I don’t want more of my sisters to be locked up like I was, I want them to be treated with love.
Protest is an act of solidarity. Together we have one strong and loud voice!”
Mary Kelly Foy, the Member of Parliament for the City of Durham:
“I am fundamentally opposed to the detention of vulnerable refugees. Instead of this dehumanising process, I echo the call of human rights activists that asylum claims should be resolved in the community without the trauma of detention.
I am speaking at the demo because I believes it’s the responsibility of politicians to speak up for the underrepresented and to ensure that there’s a County Durham MP present to speak up for the local community”
Margaret Owen O.B.E, a Human Rights Lawyer with a special focus on the rights of women and girls as well as asylum seekers and refugees, says:
“These detentions are not just utterly unlawful, violating international human rights and humanitarian laws and of course the 1951 refugee convention, but they are so callous, so cruel that I would define them ss torture.
Priti Patel makes me ashamed to be a UK citizen since her actions have so damaged, belittled our standing and reputation in the world. These women need to be looked after, cared for with compassion, gentleness and given access to specialist services to help them manage the trauma did their experiences fleeing violence to get here. We should be protecting them, not punishing them. Question is not how they got here. But why”
Roza Salih, former Kurdish child refugee known as one of the ‘Glasgow Girls’, now recently elected Glasgow Councillor for Greater Pollok, says:
“I have been a campaigner for Refugee rights since I was 15 years old, and well known as one of the Glasgow Girls. I came to this country seeking sanctuary with my family. As the Glasgow Girls we campaigned to end child detention and saved our friend from deportation.
I find it difficult to see women being locked up like criminals. I am against detention and as a taxpayer, I don’t want our government to spend money on cruel practices against refugee women.”
Kate Fox, poet, writer & broadcaster, says:
“Fundamental rights and freedoms are being eroded every day & the proposed detention centre represents a devastatingly dehumanising way of dealing with women who need support and care.
Speaking out is a way of growing awareness and solidarity. I often feel helpless about the injustices I see everywhere-but then I remember words and gathering can spread hope.”
Gulwali Passarlay, former Afghan child refugee, now graduate, campaigner for the rights of those seeking sanctuary, and author of best-selling book ‘The Lightless Sky”, says:
“I am a former refugee from Afghanistan and have been campaigning and raising awareness about refugees, creating a positive discussion about asylum and protection.
I am coming to the protest because of this cruel, injustice and inhuman decision to build a detention for refugees, let alone for women. I am angry, frustrated, with this racist and hostile policy of detaining asylum seekers, especially women. I want to add my voice to the demonstration that this is not welcome and not in our name. We need to welcome refugees, not imprison them.”
In addition to this national protest, local groups including No To Hassockfield, Durham People’s Assembly and Abolish Detention – Hassockfield, continue to hold monthly demonstrations at the site itself on the third Saturday of each month. /ENDS
For further information, please contact:
The national demonstration will take place from 12-3pm on Saturday 14 May 2022 at Palace Green, Baily Court, Durham, DH1 3EP. Speakers may be available for interviews on the day.
- For instance, 85% of women seeking asylum who were detained at Yarl’s Wood and participated in Women for Refugee Women’s 2017 research were survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence, including domestic violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced prostitution/trafficking: https://www.refugeewomen.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/women-for-refugee-women-reports-we-are-still-here.pdf
- Statistics supplied to Women for Refugee Women by the Home Office.