Protest outside Home Office as authorities clamp down on anti-detention movement

Cuffed: Inmates say the Harmondsworth demonstration was violently broken up
Cuffed: Inmates say the Harmondsworth demonstration was violently broken up
Ian Dunt By

Activists will gather outside the Home Office tomorrow, as they respond to reports that authorities violently broke up a protest in a detention centre this weekend.

Somewhere between 60 and 72 inmates at the centre conducted a demonstration in the courtyard on Saturday night, in a protest against the use of fast-track detention to decide asylum claims.

Fast track was branded unlawful by the high court last month but inmates set for a deportation under the system are still being processed despite the ruling.

Talking to Politics.co.uk, inmates said a special prison unit of police officers, dressed with helmets and batons, violently broke up the protest.


That claim was denied by officials at Harmondsworth, who said the demonstration was broken up without violence.

The Home Office refused to comment on whether the protestors had been sent to other centres or put in isolation, as claimed by supporters.

But sources confirmed to Politics.co.uk that many protestors had been moved from the centre in a bid to break up the protest network building in the detention facility.

One inmate who had taken part in the protest explained what had happened over the phone:

"It broke up in a bad way. All night we just sat there, people playing around and being positive, sending out positive vibes, saying 'we can do this'. We decided we would all go [back in to the centre] together. Whatever happens, we'd do it together.

"But they came with so much force. You should have seen the way they came. There were nearly 200 officers who were proper ready for war. Imagine hundreds of coppers coming out with dogs, shouting to get off the ground, with no way to escape.

"We were handcuffed.  They were taking everyone, taking everyone's names, filming us with cameras. They have taken most of the people's stuff, including their phones and papers.

"Now they're looking for people whose name they heard people used in the protest. Usually they find the person who is a leader, or who speaks on behalf of everyone. They take them and move them away from everyone. They try to find weak points. We don't know where they take the other people."

Saturday's action was just the latest in a growing protest movement with Harmondsworth at its centre, as inmates become increasingly outraged by the lack of contact with lawyers and an asylum system which they say stacks the odds against them.

The detainee protest was a continuation of a Movement for Justice demonstration outside the centre earlier on Saturday – the third such protest in recent months.

During the demonstration, detainees told organisers up to 200 of them had gone on hunger strike demanding the release of anyone being processed through fast track.

The protest movement has been bolstered by the high court ruling which found fast track was unlawful because it "carries an unacceptably high risk of unfairness".

A parliamentary inquiry into the use of detention is also currently ongoing, with MPs hearing testimony from people who have been incarcerated for months.

A week ago, female detainees at Yarl's Wood detention centre protested against the mistreatment of two pregnant and ill inmates and demanded the release of all pregnant, ill or disabled detainees.

Protestors will gather outside the Home Office tomorrow from 16:30 BST. Another 'Surround Harmondsworth' demonstration is planned for September 13th.

A Home Office spokesperson said:

"We are aware of an incident at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre.

"Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls. It is vital these are carried out with dignity and respect and we take the welfare of our detainees very seriously.

"Detention is only ever used as a last resort after all attempts to encourage individuals to leave voluntarily have failed."

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