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HIgh Court Challenge to Derwentside (formerly Hassockfield) IRC

July 7, 2022 11:12 AM
By Margaret Lally

On 28 and 29 June Women for Refugee Women took the Government to the High Court for a Judicial Review of the Derwentside Immigration Detention Centre IRC (formerly known as Hassockfield). The verdict is expected in July.

As this case progressed we learnt the following important information

  • 51 women in total were detained at the IRC at the time the judge asked for the information.
  • 13 were foreign national offenders (this means they had been sentenced by a UK court to 12 months or more imprisonment, and had completed their sentence). In our view they had "served their time" and it constitutes double punishment then to deport/return them to the country which they originally sought to escape from.
  • 3 port arrivals (airport or seaport) sent straight to Hassockfield/Derwentside IRC.
  • 35 'other immigration offenders' (16 of these had claimed asylum or their asylum claims were being assessed).

The claimant in the case is a South African woman who had previously been detained at Hassockfield/Derwentside IRC and alleges that the absence of face to face legal representation at Hassockfield means that she and other female detainees at Hassockfield are being discriminated against

  • She speaks very little English and it was hard to find a Zulu translator at short notice.
  • She had great difficulty finding a solicitor.
  • She became suicidal and was placed on suicide watch in the IRC.
  • She has a number of significant scars - 2 scars on each side of her face and a scar on her stomach from domestic violence inflicted on her in South Africa.
  • Once she had proper representation she was identified as a victim of modern slavery, at which point she should have been released. It took 11 days to establish that she was a victim of trafficking.
  • She was deaf and disabled. A face-to-face meeting could have made all the difference and resulted in her being released much earlier. When she did speak to lawyers, it wasn't even over video call, it was a phone call which was made more difficult because of her hearing issues and language barriers.

In response to the judge's enquiry into the availability of face to face meetings with the legal aid providers, information was provided by the Home office that:

Shortest: 2 hours 12 minutes by car one way

Another: 5 hours 34 minutes by car one way

Another: 5 hours 28 minutes by car one way

This is a really important case as it could have implications for the Home Office's obligations to ensure access to justice in its new asylum reception centres. Please visit Women for Refugee Women's website if you are able to donate towards their legal costs.

Protest Against Removals from Derwentside IRC on 29 June

On 29 June campaigners drawn from a number of organisations from across the North East gathered outside the Derwentside IRC to oppose the deportation of thirteen women to Nigeria and Ghana on a Home Office charter flight from Birmingham.

Throughout the day more than twenty protesters remained at the site determined to try and prevent the removal of women from Hassockfield. The protesters played music, displayed banners, made speeches, and used performance arts such as clowning. Towards the end of the afternoon police vans arrived. The police told protesters that they were there to facilitate what they said was a legal process, ie. the forcible removal of women from the detention centre. They made it clear that a van was going to pass through the gates with the purpose of taking women from the centre who would then be put on the flight.

Police warned protesters that they would be arrested if they did not move to let the van past. When protesters did not move the police began to make arrests, five in total. They were charged with suspected Obstruction of the Highway and were released from custody at 11.30pm. Other protesters remained at the site, with an increasing police presence. The remaining protesters were surrounded and unable to block further movements in and out of the gate.

By 4.30pm three women had been segregated inside the detention centre, ready for transportation to the flight. Legal support from across the country had reduced the original thirteen women with deportation orders down to three. From around the site alarms were going off and shouting could be heard from inside the centre as the women resisted removal. The three women were taken out of the centre on a speeding Hallmark coach at approximately 7.30pm. Staff departures had been delayed and some were seen leaving in tears.

The aim of the protest was to try and prevent women from being removed on a flight back to countries they had fled from. These women came to the UK seeking sanctuary from difficult circumstances which threatened their safety and survival. The delay created by the protests and the stalwart legal efforts by solicitors and migrant support organisations meant that only one woman from Hassockfield/Derwentside IRC was on the flight. This is still one too many. The other two women were removed from the aircraft having had successful last minute injunctions filed. Unfortunately, the Hi Fly ( @highfly_airlines) flight took off after a delay of more than an hour. We believe that twenty-one people were still on the flight, mostly having been brought from Colnbrook Detention Centre, and other parts of the UK.

For further information see Publicity for our cause in County Durham and London - No To Hassockfield