CAMPAIGNERS from across the UK converged on Durham today to demonstrate against the imprisonment of women at the Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre.

In what they have called their biggest demonstration to date against the controversial centre, about 200 people are gathered on Palace Green, at Durham Cathedral. 

The Home Office began detaining women at the facility - formerly Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, at Medomsley, near Consett - on December 28.

The Northern Echo: Hundreds protest in Durham against Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTHundreds protest in Durham against Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

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

The detention centre has capacity for 84 women to be locked up at any one time, and replaces Yarl’s Wood as the main site where women are detained for immigration purposes.

Protestors say they are concerned that immigration detention is "deeply retraumatising and harmful", unnecessary, while claiming women are being held in Derwentside detention centre without access to justice.

The protest was held near at Durham Cathedral’s ‘Sanctuary Knocker’. Anyone who used the ‘Sanctuary Knocker’ would be offered respite, food, drink, bedding and other necessities.

The Northern Echo:

Residents, who say they were never consulted about the potential uses of the site, joined individuals who have experienced the "hostile immigration environment" to protest. 

The demonstration comes in the wake of recent announcements of the extension of the detention regime overseas, with campaigners branding the Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda as "cruel and inhumane".

Read more: Durham County Council states opposition to Hassockfield plan

Agnes Tanoh, Detention Campaign spokesperson at Women for Refugee Women started a petition against the new detention centre that has been signed by over 16,700 people.

The Northern Echo:

She said: “I know how detention destroys a woman, because I was locked up for over three months at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, before the Government accepted that I am a refugee. I witnessed the suffering of vulnerable women while I was there.

“The Government promised to reduce its use of detention because of the harm it causes, but they broke this promise by opening Derwentside detention centre – the first one to open in over seven years.

“I don’t want more of my sisters to be locked up like I was, I want them to be treated with love.

The Northern Echo:

Protest is an act of solidarity. Together we have one strong and loud voice!”

Mary Kelly Foy, MP for the City of Durham added: “I am fundamentally opposed to the detention of vulnerable refugees. Instead of this dehumanising process, I echo the call of human rights activists that asylum claims should be resolved in the community without the trauma of detention.

Read more: Vigil held at Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre

“I am speaking at the demo because I believes it's the responsibility of politicians to speak up for the underrepresented and to ensure that there's a County Durham MP present to speak up for the local community.”

Margaret Owen a Human Rights Lawyer with a special focus on the rights of women and girls as well as asylum seekers and refugees, said: “These detentions are not just utterly unlawful, violating international human rights and humanitarian laws and of course the 1951 refugee convention, but they are so callous, so cruel that I would define them as torture.

The Northern Echo:

"Priti Patel makes me ashamed to be a UK citizen since her actions have so damaged, belittled our standing and reputation in the world."

Kate Fox, poet, writer & broadcaster, says: “Fundamental rights and freedoms are being eroded every day & the proposed detention centre represents a devastatingly dehumanising way of dealing with women who need support and care.

Read more: Consett demo against new female asylum detention centre

Gulwali Passarlay, former Afghan child refugee, now graduate, campaigner for the rights of those seeking sanctuary, and author of best-selling book ‘The Lightless Sky”, says: “I am a former refugee from Afghanistan and have been campaigning and raising awareness about refugees, creating a positive discussion about asylum and protection.

The Northern Echo:

"I am coming to the protest because of this cruel, injustice and inhuman decision to build a detention for refugees, let alone for women. I am angry, frustrated, with this racist and hostile policy of detaining asylum seekers, especially women."

A Home Office spokesperson said: ''Immigration removal centres such as Derwentside enable the UK to remove foreign national offenders and those with no right to be in the UK. This is what the public expects.

The Northern Echo: Hundreds protest in Durham against Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTHundreds protest in Durham against Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

“Vulnerable people are only detained when the evidence of vulnerability is outweighed by the immigration considerations, such as risk of non-compliance with immigration bail or for the protection of the public.

''The Nationality and Borders Act, which recently received Royal Assent to become law, will fix the broken asylum system, making it easier to remove those with no right to be here, and fairer to those who need our help.”

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