On Sunday 25th of June, a protest broke out over conditions in the detention centre and the lack of proper treatment of people held under immigration powers.
This is the latest in a series of issues at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), one of two Heathrow immigration removal centres (the other being Colnbrook IRC), the biggest facility of its kind in Europe.
Tensions at Harmondsworth have remained high since the death of a Colombian national Frank Ospina in March was followed by reports of disturbances and further suicide attempts. However, it is apparent that conditions have not improved and problems continue.
People in detention are already in distress due to the long immigration process and being detained for an indeterminate amount of time. We spoke to clients who witnessed the protest. One person told us:
“People were upset as they have been here for a long time, some people want to go back and there’s delays. Some people have bail but are still waiting to leave. We’ve been here for so long, I’ve been here for seven months.”
They also told us that they were being locked in a two-meter by two-meter cell for up to eighteen hours a day. Many people in detention are complaining about the heat, lack of proper ventilation, poor healthcare services and not receiving regular nutrition.
One man told us “I share a room with someone who has mental health issues, he takes anti-psychotic medication at 6pm and it didn’t come until midnight”.
He also added that many people were missing vital meals to the point where they felt they had to act: “Forty people were gathered in courtyard one and together they pulled down the gate, broke a window in the kitchen, they took some food (bread rolls, fruit (apples/bananas) and water”.
Another man who has been detained for over 3 months told us that “Around 7pm, there was a tactical crew of around sixty men and women with shields and dogs came in. One by one they escorted people to back to their cells and I’ve heard that some people have been escorted to jail or prison”.
He went on to explain that his family is very worried about him and the conditions he was being kept in:
“When I describe the place, it is a prison. There are no windows in the whole place, at all, not in the living room. Sometimes in the unit, the microwave doesn’t work. In my unit, one working microwave for sixty people".
"It’s a high-stress environment, sometimes I don’t feel safe. I have some things [skin condition] on my fingers from stress. There is like new skin is on old skin, causing dark patches. Psoriasis looking."
"I just want to feel safe and have a better life."
Our clients in detention frequently describe it as psychological torture and evidence has repeatedly shown the degrading impact it has on people’s mental health.
BID’s experience over the past 25 years has repeatedly shown that there is no human way to lock people up under immigration powers. Attempts to improve conditions at Harmondsworth remain questionable, to say the least, and the Home Office plans to increase the number of people it detains and deports to an estimated 3,000 or more people per month.
Facilities will need to be built and filled with people, a process which will traumatise thousands, devour much-needed public funds and reproduce centuries of colonial and racial injustice.
Instead of focusing on the cost of living, the housing crisis and the NHS, the government is planning to open detention centres in Campsfield and Haslar, costing the taxpayer £399 million.
The Illegal Migration Bill will give the Home Secretary unlimited and authoritarian powers to detain individuals including, pregnant people and children, subjecting untold numbers of people to the inhumanity of the UK’s detention estate. Please join us in resisting the bill by emailing your MP.