Friday, July 14, 2006

Call to close detention centres

PEOPLE held in London’s Colnbrook Detention Centre last month issued a statement calling for the closure of all detention centres and declared a hunger strike in protest against inhuman treatment.
They describe three types of prisoner being held there. The first of these are asylum seekers; refugees who fled their native country, forced to abandon their families to save their lives.
All they want is to survive and live in safety. They have always complied with the conditions given them. They were detained when they went to make their weekly report in the immigration office, and since then they have been at Colnbrook IRC.
They are held for many months in the centre for no crime and are deprived of all contact with their families.
The second group who suffer are disabled asylum seekers who have been unable to earn a living. They suffer particularly because there are no facilities for disabled prisoners and they do not receive proper medical attention. The third group, a minority, consists of those who have committed offences – for example using a forged passport – served their sentence in prison and are then held indefinitely in the detention centre – sometimes for twice the length of their original sentence.
They are in a legal limbo and have no idea what will happen to them. They feel they are being used as political scapegoats.
Some are suicidal. Their statement says: “We have repeatedly called for help and intervention, for an investigation of these crimes against humanity. We have appealed and will continue to appeal to whoever is willing to listen, to come to our aid, and exert some control, and restraint on this organisations.”
They have embarked on the hunger strike to draw attention to their plight. They are asking for an audience with immigration minister Liam Byrne MP; for an independent parliamentary committee to investigate their situation and for temporary work permits in order to earn a living.
But already one of the hunger strikers has been seized and taken from his cell by 20 police officers. He is a married man with a wife and children who have legal status in Britain and his case was due for a judicial review. Now his friends and family have no idea where he is.