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by Bethany Rielly
THE Home Office will start moving women into an “inhumane” new detention centre in just a few weeks despite widespread opposition to the plans, campaigners have claimed.
Refugee rights groups will be joined by MPs and asylum-seekers on Saturday to protest against the government’s plans to begin detaining women at Derwentside detention centre in County Durham, formerly the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre.
It is expected that women will move into the site at the end of October, a month after the start of private company Mitie’s £166 million contract to run Derwentside began on September 30.
The plan comes despite opposition from MPs and attempts to block the opening of the site by local campaign groups, including legal actions.
In June, more than 70 MPs wrote a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, warning that the site will put “already vulnerable women at risk of harm and discrimination.”
City of Durham MP Mary Kelly Foy, who co-ordinated the letter and is set to speak at Saturday’s protest said: “The opening of this detention centre is the latest immoral attempt at populism by a Home Secretary who repeatedly scapegoats refugees in desperate attempts to secure her own position within the Conservative Party.”
Campaigners have also raised concerns about the wellbeing of women detainees, the majority of whom they say are survivors of abuse, torture or trafficking.
Women for Refugee Women spokesperson Agnes Tanoh, who started a petition against the site that attracted over 15,000 signatures, said that as a former Yarl’s Wood detainee, she knows how detention “destroys women.”
“Before the government accepted that I am a refugee, I witnessed the suffering of vulnerable women while I was there. I don’t want more of my sisters to be locked up like I was,” she said.
The Home Office has claimed that Derwentside will be “a new, smaller, facility that will maintain the standards and high expectations for the detention of women.”
But campaigners argue that the opening of the site is a betrayal of government promises to reduce the number of women in the detention estate.
The disturbing history of the site, formerly the Medomsley youth jail where hundreds of youth offenders were physically and sexually abused during the 1970s and 1980s, has also added to the sense of horror many locals feel about it being reopened.
Saturday’s protest will begin at 12pm outside the facility and be attended by No To Hassockfield, Durham People’s Assembly and Abolish Detention — Hassockfield.
The upcoming opening of the site comes amid moves by the government to make it easier to detain and deport asylum-seekers.
On Friday it was announced that Ms Patel is seeking to give herself new powers in the Nationality and Borders Bill to impose visa penalties on countries that refuse to accept deportees.
Migrant rights campaigners accused the government of resorting to “blackmail” in order to secure deportation deals with reluctant third countries.
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