The uprising at Harmondsworth detention centre near Heathrow has badly shaken the crisis-ridden, reactionary Blair government.
It began last Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday, after detainees were stopped from watching a news bulletin about the scathing report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers, who condemned the centre, managed by private security firm Kalyx.
Desperate detainees used bedsheets and clothes to spell out ‘SOS’, ‘Help’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Justice’ in the courtyard. Images of their protest were captured from a helicopter, until the airspace above the centre was declared a ‘no-fly-zone’. Teams of officers in riot gear were sent in, but struggled to bring the unrest ‘under control’.
The Home Office then said it was releasing 150 ‘low-risk’ detainees held at other centres, so that detainees from Harmondsworth could be dispersed. A day later there was a report of a disturbance at Lindholme Immigration Removal Centre, but the Home Office refused to give any further details.
The reaction of the Home Secretary John Reid was to condemn the uprising as an ‘attempt to sabotage’ the government’s immigration policy – not a reaction to the conditions in which thousands of immigrant workers and refugees are held at Harmondsworth, and other centres around the country, which have been likened to conditions in a ‘Category A’ prison, and even by some former detainees to being in ‘Guantanamo’.
In her report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded that conditions at Harmondsworth were worse than her inspectorate had seen ‘at any other detention centre’.
Anne Owers’ report revealed that 60 per cent of detainees interviewed complained they felt unsafe, that complaints of bullying and victimisation by staff were rife, and that there was an over-emphasis on physical security and control.
The use of force was high, as was the use of segregation. Detainees described guards as ‘aggressive’, ‘intimidating’ and ‘unhelpful’ and the report said the complaints system was ineffective and not trusted.
Dr Frank Arnold, of the Medical Justice Network, said: ‘I saw my first patient at Harmondsworth 16 moths ago. He was a Zimbabwean asylum seeker on hunger strike, who was dangerously ill and in clinical shock. He wanted and needed to be in hospital. It took the threat of High Court action to get him there.
‘The manager at Harmondsworth insisted, against medical advice, that he be handcuffed, despite warnings that he could suffer a cardiac arrest in the ambulance and the cuffs would get in the way of resuscitation. The cuffs were only removed after Kate Hoey MP spoke with this manager.’
The remarks of Home Secretary Reid show a deep-seated hostility and contempt for these immigrant workers and refugees, never mind any concern for their plight at Harmondsworth.
This government has continued where the Tories left off, by passing even more draconian anti-immigration and asylum legislation, turning refugees and immigrants into prisoners.
Thousands of people are held in the privately-managed detention centres every year, whilst the government has made their right to a fair hearing virtually impossible.
Their ‘crime’ is to come to Britain seeking refuge from war and persecution, or to seek work in the UK.
Contrast their treatment to that of billionaire businessmen from Russia and other countries, who are warmly welcomed into Britain by the government, and even offered British passports.
Billionaire capitalists are allowed to come and go as they please, as far as this government is concerned, but workers from other countries or refugees fleeing for their lives are treated with suspicion and detained.
Racist laws have been created against immigrant workers and refugees in an effort to divide the working class, by blaming the problems of the crisis-ridden capitalist system on workers from other countries, whilst the billionaire capitalists go about smashing up industries and jobs and using migrant workers living under threat of deportation as cheap labour and the government privatises the Welfare State.
The time has come to close down Harmondsworth and all immigration and refugee prisons. It is time to smash all racist laws by uniting the whole working class in the struggle for socialism in Britain and worldwide, placing the wealth that the working class creates through its labour in the workers’ hands.