As part of the transnational day of action against immigration detention, Brighton Migrant Solidarity will protest at Tinsley House and Brook House in solidarity with those imprisoned for the non-crime of crossing an international border.
Tinsley and Brook House are immigration removal centres run by the outsourcing giant, G4S. They are located at Gatwick airport. Inmates in the centres are unable to leave the ‘houses’ and are locked up 2 to 4 in a room at night. These places are effectively prisons for around 450 people. There is however one crucial difference. If you are detained inside one of these places, then no judge will have passed a sentence which condemns you to one of these purgatories. As former inmates often put it, “in prison, you count down the days. In detention you count them up”.
Britain is alone in Europe for detaining people indefinitely, and, the most gung ho in locking people up1. Around 30,000 people a year are imprisoned in centres like those at Gatwick2. There is no time limit on this detention. Currently, around 1000 people in the detention estate will have been there for six months or more, and around a hundred suffered for over a year. The practice is soul destroying and wrong. The UNHCR agrees. They call indefinite detention “arbitrary” and therefore illegal according to international law3. The UN Committee Against Torture has also called for a time limit on detention and urged the UK to “ensure that detention is used only as a last resort… and not for administrative convenience”4. It is time we stopped torturing people simply because they had the temerity to believe in a better future for the world or for themselves. Immigration detention is a crime, not the crossing of borders.
If you find yourself held at one of these ‘facilities’, the chances are you will be seeking asylum, have entered the country without proper documentation, breached a condition on your being in the country or be a so-called, ‘foreign national offender’. In no case should you be there.
Asylum seekers and foreign national offenders make up a big proportion of the population in Gatwick. Repressive regimes and wars have led to millions of people seeking somewhere safe to rebuild their lives. The UK has all but turned its back on the problem. 1.26 million people claimed asylum in the EU last year. Only 38,800 of those were the in the UK (approximately 3%). This is despite the fact that the UK makes up 12% of the EU’s population and 17% of its GDP. Of that tiny number of claims, the UK rejected over 60% of them. This is well below the EU average5. In practice that means that many of the people currently suffering in Calais will end up banged up at Gatwick and other parts of the detention estate.
Foreign national offenders tend to be long-term residents of the UK. Some were born here, some are born in the EU and some in the rest of the world. They have every right to be in the country. The Home Office sees it differently. They maintain that, irrespective of your connection to the UK, they will detain and deport you if you have spent more than 12 months in prison. Here is how Matthew, one victim of the system, describes it:
I came to the UK alone when I was 14 years old. I lived on the streets. I got in trouble. I was arrested a few times for petty crimes. In 2010, I was arrested for common assault. My sentence was only a few weeks when it was added to my previous ones, they all came to a year. Since then, the Home Office has kept me in detention. They are trying to deport me. My daughter is seven. These are my facts. When I think back to my country of origin all I can remember is the government forces beating me, and my parents. I cannot picture where I lived, what I used to do. I cannot remember the language or the landscape. From my youth, right up until this moment – stuck in detention with no end in sight – I am British. It is not a question of passport or ID numbers. this is how I grew up. I raised myself in Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham. English is my language6.
What this amounts to is a two-tier justice system. British nationals will be punished once for their crimes. Non-British nationals will first be incarcerated by the UK and then exiled from their home. It is a travesty of justice and a humanitarian outrage.
This racist system is under attack. There have been protests across the detention estate. For all these reasons and more, we stand in solidarity with the courageous men and women who are fighting for their right to live freely and with dignity, irrespective of their skin colour or country of origin. The Home Office seeks to place them out of sight and out of mind, but they have raised their voice and we have heard their call. We will be there on the 7th to amplify and echo their shout for freedom, and we will return again and again until these prisons are no more.
If you want to come with us on the 7th, we have arranged transport from Brighton to the detention centres. The bus will leave from the Old Steine, stop D at 1:30 PM. You can book a place on the bus by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. We expect to be back by 7 o’clock. Here is a list of things you might want to bring:
- Something to make noise with, pots, drums, whistles, your voice, et cetera
- Comfortable shoes and clothing
- A waterproof jacket
- Banners and placards
- Messages of solidarity.
We will not be doing anything unlawful, but the police often see things differently. This is especially true where airports are involved. There is a possibility that some of us will be arrested. If you are arrested, answer “no comment” to every question, unless otherwise instructed by a trusted solicitor. We will make sure that everybody has the number of a good, sympathetic legal aid solicitor, and we will support you through the process. You might also want to inform a friend that you are going to a protest and that you could be arrested. If you also tell that friend what you want to happen if the unlikely event occurs, then they can be the person you contact from the police station. Hopefully, the police will recognise that we are exercising our lawful right to peaceful assembly.
See you Saturday.