Activists in the North East are campaigning for the closure of Hassockfield, a detention centre for migrants and vulnerable women. This ‘hostile environment’ is a breeding ground for abuse. The left must fight for a socialist alternative.

Activists in the North East are campaigning for the closure of Hassockfield, a detention centre for migrants and vulnerable women. This ‘hostile environment’ is a breeding ground for abuse. The left must fight for a socialist alternative.

Last month, on 19 February, Socialist Appeal activists from across the North East joined a demonstration against the Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) at Hassockfield. The protest was organised by the ‘Say No To Hassockfield Campaign Group’.

Activists have so far organised eight monthly protests, demanding the closure of Hassockfield. There have also been legal challenges mounted against the Tory government in an attempt to shut down the IRC.

Like the campaign against Yarl’s Wood, protestors are calling for more than just better conditions for women at Hassockfield – they’re calling for the abolition of detention centres.

And the only way this can be achieved is by booting out the racist Tories and the rotten capitalist system.

Horrific history

No Human is Illegal

The Hassockfield site is an IRC for women who have been served a prison sentence of more than 12 months, or broken immigration laws, or whose asylum claim has failed. Failed asylum claims are the most common reason for being detained, due to the opaqueness of the immigration system.

The first detainees were moved into Hassockfield in late December 2021. Current estimates are that there are around 20 women being held in the centre, with capacity for up to 60 more.

Local activists have pointed out that 80% of women detained in IRCs “will have been abused, raped” or “subjected to trafficking and sexual violence”. Locking up these victims is no way to help the vulnerable.

One factor behind the local backlash against this detention centre has been the horrific history of this site. Since the 1970s, until recently, it was a young offenders’ institution known as Medomsley Detention Centre.

Since its closure, at least six former prison officers have been convicted for sexual and physical abuse. And over £7 million has been paid out in compensation to over 1,600 men who were abused at the centre.

Devastatingly, a 14 year-old boy took his own life after being detained here. And by 2015, the site was closed.

Profit motive

The site was due to be demolished until Conservative MP for North West Durham, Richard Holden, had it repurposed as an IRC. He claimed that it would generate 150 to 200 jobs for the area, and would bring in £10 million for the local economy – itself ravaged by Tory austerity.

The company awarded the £166 million contract to manage the centre is Mitie Care & Custody. This firm is described as: “The largest supplier of immigration detention services to the UK government with a turnover of over £100 million per annum.”

This is the cold logic of the capitalist system exposed for all to see. This £10 million ‘boost’ will only be to the benefit of Holden’s Tory chums: the shareholders and executives at Mitie Care & Custody. A tidy sum for indefinitely detaining vulnerable women.

Socialist alternative

Detention Centre Comrades

As the horrific example of former IRC Yarl’s Wood demonstrates, the entire current setup is designed to breed neglect and abuse.

Refugees escape war and poverty in their own countries, only to face a hostile environment in the UK: locked up indefinitely by companies whose main motive is profit.

This is a damning indictment of capitalism and its political representatives. Those seeking a better life, or fleeing from persecution and destitution, should be able to settle in Britain without the threat of harassment or repression.

The left and the labour movement should fight for a socialist migration policy. This must include the demand for the immediate closure and abolition of Hassockfield and other detention centres.

Ultimately, however, it is only by kicking out the Tories and overthrowing the barbaric capitalist system that we can open the borders and put an end to the cruel exploitation of migrants and refugees.

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