Protestors have gathered for their monthly demonstration at a controversial County Durham immigration detention centre.

Demonstrators met at Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) yesterday (21st January) to continue their calls for the centre to be closed down. They were joined by City of Durham's Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy - an active opponent of the centre since its announcement.

In a letter to the Home Secretary in April 2021, Ms Foy made it clear that she morally objects to immigration detention centres, as they "serve only to criminalise and imprison people simply because of where they were born".

Read more: Damning report on controversial County Durham immigration removal detention centre​  

In a tweet following the protest, Ms Foy described Derwentside as "An abhorrent Tory facility," adding that "many women imprisoned there are simply guilty of not thinking about paperwork when they were running for their lives".

The latest protest - a monthly event for the campaigners - follows a report published by prison inspectors last month after an unannounced visit in August which showed the centre had 'much work' needed for improvement.

In a wide ranging series of criticisms in the report, amongst the most serious was that "leaders had not properly overseen the use of force in order to make sure that it was reasonable, proportionate and safe".

The Home Office's 'Rule 35' states that people who have experienced torture and abuse should not be detained in settings like Derwentside. The report revealed that of the 44 Rule 35 reports submitted in the previous 6 months, 23 people were subsequently recommended for release, while another 4 cases are still pending.

The Northern Echo: Mary Foy MP joined protestors at their monthly demonstration outside Derwentside IRC.Mary Foy MP joined protestors at their monthly demonstration outside Derwentside IRC. (Image: No2Hassockfield/Twitter)

A lack of administrative organisation at the facility also meant that video footage and paperwork relating to events at the detention centre have gone missing.

Overall, HM Inspectorate of Prisons stated 15 key concerns that needed immediate action from Mitie - the private contractor who operates the detention centre on behalf of the government.

Read more: Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre is going ahead

Labour MP for Jarrow Kate Osborne visited the centre the week before the report's publication and wrote to the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to raise her concerns.

“The appalling conditions I have seen today are a disgrace," she said.

"Women who are locked up in Derwentside are being denied human rights, are isolated and unable to access face-to-face legal advice.

"The majority of those being detained here are innocent of any criminal activity and will be detained for unjust and unnecessary administrative purposes. Some of the women have been trafficked.” 

The Northern Echo: A report by the prison's inspector last month showed that only 35% of detainees at Derwentside felt supported and prepared for release.A report by the prison's inspector last month showed that only 35% of detainees at Derwentside felt supported and prepared for release.

Derwentside Women's Immigration Removal Centre near Medomsley is on the former Hassockfield Detention Centre. The site was previously the site of the now-demolished Medomsley Detention Centre for young offenders, where more than 1,800 former inmates reported sexual and physical abuse by staff.

Campaigners have fought against the detention centre's existence since it was originally announced as a replacement for Yarl's Wood as the main immigration detention centre for women in the UK. Opponents to opening the site also included Durham County Council.

The group 'No to Hassockfield' continues to campaign for the closure of the site, along with Durham People's Assembly and Abolish Detention who co-organise the monthly protest. 

The Northern Echo: A picture from an earlier protest at the site.A picture from an earlier protest at the site. (Image: No to Hassockfield)

A spokesperson from No to Hassockfield was highly critical of Suella Braverman's choice of language when discussing immigration, saying: “Braverman’s appalling use of language to describe desperate people fleeing unimaginable horror is shameful and does not represent the majority of the British people who have historically opened their hearts and their homes to people seeking sanctuary.

"With National Holocaust Memorial Day on the horizon we should be reminding everyone of where the type of behaviour demonstrated by Braverman can lead to. It begins with words and politicians should be mindful of whipping up hate.


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"Equally we condemn the local MP’s description of the women incarcerated in Derwentside IRC; Richard Holden routinely labels the vulnerable women asylum seekers as ‘criminals’ and ‘illegals’.

"As Holocaust survivor Lord Alf Dubs reminded us, no-one is illegal and seeking sanctuary is not a crime. We continue to stand in solidarity with those seeking sanctuary and will redouble our efforts to close down Derwentside IRC at Hassockfield."