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THE Home Office is facing legal action over conditions at its new women-only detention centre in County Durham just months after opening the facility.
The first female detainees were moved into Derwentside in Consett, which has a capacity for 87 women, last December amid widespread opposition to the new site.
Charity Women for Refugee Women said that detainees have struggled to access legal advice since moving in due to a lack of in-person services.
The charity warned that this is leaving vulnerable women “without access to justice,” prompting the group to launch a legal challenge.
“We’ve worked with hundreds of survivors of rape, torture and trafficking to document how detention has retraumatised them,” Women for Refugee Women director Alphonsine Kabagabo said at the weekend.
“The Home Office hasn’t listened. Instead, they’ve opened a new detention centre for women in an even more remote location and without adequate legal advice provision in place.
“We can’t stand by and let this harm go on so we are taking the Home Office to court.”
The group argues that the lack of in-person legal advice is problematic because it exacerbates difficulties vulnerable women face.
The group’s solicitor Shalini Patel said: “[Home Secretary Priti Patel’s] own policy recognises that survivors of trafficking and/or gender-based violence may have additional difficulties with self-identifying and disclosing their trauma and yet she has continued with a women’s detention centre, in the knowledge that its location would severely restrict the detainees’ fundamental right to access justice.”
Unlike other detention centres, women at Derwentside have only been able to get legal advice via phone despite assurances from the Home Office that an in-person service would be available.
Barriers to accessing legal advice have been compounded by poor phone signal at the site and the lack of legal aid providers in County Durham, the group added.
A separate legal action has also been launched by a detainee at Derwentside.
The woman, who has not been named, said that she was only able to secure legal representation three days before her deportation flight was scheduled.
“I was really struggling and suffering,” she said. “If I hadn’t received good legal representation, I would have been removed by now and I’m afraid that I would be dead.”
A Home Office spokesperson told the Morning Star: “Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre opened during a global pandemic and our priority throughout has been to take proportionate steps to ensure the safety of residents and staff.
“Individuals have always been able to contact their legal representatives easily by telephone, email and video call – and also receive 30 minutes free advice through the legal aid scheme.
“Meetings in-person are also now able to take place on request.”
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