A LEADING charity worker has called on the Government to rethink its use of a refugee detention facility in County Durham after highlighting that individuals would be “better served” if they were transferred to a community setting within the region.

In November 2021, Derwentside, a new Immigration Detention and Removal Centre for up to 80 women, was opened by the Ministry of Justice at the former Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, near Consett.

The facility is on the site of the Medomsley Detention Centre for boys, where appalling historic abuse took place over several decades, resulting in life-long trauma for many victims.

The reopening of the centre has led to protests by people concerned about the ethics of detaining vulnerable people in such a facility.

Read more: Anger at plans for refugee detention at Hassockfield site

Read more: The County Durham family of boy hit by ball at Australian Open

One of those that has become vocal about the use of detention centres as a method of ‘controlling; situations is chief executive of Action Foundation, Duncan McAuley, who believes the women the Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre would benefit from a community environment instead of the “inhumane treatment” that sometimes comes with detention centres.

He said: “Time and time again we hear of individuals suffering in detention before being released to live in the community. In fact, 65 per cent of those detained are subsequently released back into their community.

“We continue to oppose the widespread use of immigration detention and are calling for alternatives to be immediately and sustainably rolled out, providing cost effective, humane solutions.  

The Northern Echo: Protests have taken place against the detention centre that opened in November 2021.Protests have taken place against the detention centre that opened in November 2021.

“While we recognise the need for some capacity in Immigration Removal Centres, it is shocking to see the Home Office investing millions of pounds in a new facility on our doorstep at Derwentside. Instead, we would love to see taxpayers’ money invested in alternatives, avoiding the huge personal cost to the individuals themselves. 

“Why spend millions of pounds building and running a centre 15 miles down the road when we’ve demonstrated a cheaper, more humane alternative based in local communities?” 

These comments from Action Foundation’s chief executive comes after analysis of a pioneering pilot project delivered by the charity and funded by the Home Office has found it is more humane and significantly less expensive to support vulnerable asylum seekers in the community as an alternative to keeping them in detention centres. 

Read more: Councils and charities prepare to help house Afghan refugees

The evaluation of Action Access also suggests that keeping people in the community is cheaper per participant per night than holding an individual in detention.

Mr McAuley added: “There was a genuine collaborative relationship between the Home Office, UNHCR and Action Foundation and this unique partnership demonstrates a model of working that is both dynamic and effective.

“Importantly, it demonstrates the success possible if the Home Office is willing to replicate this approach in the future. If they are, Action Foundation would welcome the opportunity to work in partnership again.”

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