CAMPAIGNERS gathered in a town centre today to voice their opposition to a newly opened detention centre for female asylum seekers.

Described as a “national demonstration”, the protest took place in Consett over the new Derwentside (Hassockfield) women detention centre, at nearby Medomsley.

The rally was staged by Durham People’s Assembly and supported by the No to Hassockfield group, who want to see the abolition of detention for refugee women.

It featured speeches from four groups, including anti-racist and faith groups, plus people with experience of being in detention.

There were performances by the Feminist Theatre Group and the Crossings Band, born out of a community music charity which works with asylum seekers and refugees.

One Durham People’s Assembly member, ‘Emma’, said: “The slogan of this demonstration is #SanctuaryNotDetention.

“We believe those seeking safety in this country deserve sanctuary, love, friendship, and protection and do not deserve to be criminalised, dehumanised and locked up, only worsening vulnerability.

“Immigration detention is cruel, inhumane and unnecessary.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel made an announcement on November 23, confirming the opening of the centre, which substitutes Yarl’s Wood, in Bedford, as the only women-only detention facility in the UK.

The following morning, Abolish Detention: Hassockfield held a vigil at its gate to remember all those who lost their lives in detention.

It was the same day, that 27 people died trying to cross the English Channel on a boat, on their way to the UK from France.

Campaigners understand that a first group of around 20 women will be transferred to Hassockfield in the next few weeks of December, and the centre will reach its full capacity in forthcoming months.

Agnes Tanoh from Women for Refugee Women, who has been detained in Yarl’s Wood, said: “Detention destroys a woman, destroys our mental health, destroys our hope. I saw a woman try to kill herself. I saw guards abuse women. I saw families broken down.

“The Home Office promised to detain fewer women. We must hold them to account! No more detention centres should be built. Instead, shut them down.”

The groups involved today say the UK is the only one of the 47-member State Council of Europe to use what it terms, “the inhumane practice of indefinite detention.”

They believe detainees are often imprisoned without knowledge of when they will be released.

Each year, more than 1,500 women who come to the UK seeking asylum are locked up in detention, and most are then released back into the community.

The Home Office has said immigration detention plays a “crucial role in a robust immigration system”, and state that a “significant proportion” of women detained are facing deportation because of criminal offences committed in this country.

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