Image of barbed wire immigration detention camp

Social Housing to be Scrapped for Immigration Detention Camp

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Once again, the government appears blinded by hard-line immigration policy as they scrap much needed social housing development in favour of an ‘immigrant detention camp’.

The land in Durham was approved for the development of 127 new homes over a year ago by Durham County Council which would be overseen by Home England, the government executive body responsible for providing land to developers.

A former prison at the centre of an investigation into historic abuse, the now closed Medomsley Detention Centre, is currently on the site. Over 1000 allegations of sexual abuse and physical assault against young detainees from the 70s and 80s have been made and seven past officers jailed. The site was also reopened as Hassockfield Secure Training Centre but closed again in 2015.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has now told Homes England they’re taking back the land, but in typical government fashion, are ignoring the usual necessary legal avenues to obtain it.

Image of barbed wire immigration detention camp
For any person, especially people who have gone through trauma and escaped conflict, conditions in camps are not suitable [Image: Hedi Benyounes, Unsplash]

When told by the council that the MoJ would need a certificate that would be posted for public scrutiny, the department declared they didn’t need a public certificate as the permissions are already in place.

Councillors are already criticising the lack of logic in the government’s plan to detain migrants 400 miles away from the English Channel, Councillor Jane Brown told the Northern Echo: ‘I am quite shocked.’

‘Where is the sense in dragging people – who may have been rescued from dangerous refugee boats in the English Channel or the back of lorries parked in southern ports – over 400 miles up the country into the hills of County Durham? It is madness.’

Councillor Brown stressed how unpleasant the environment at the centre will be since it hasn’t been used for seven years.

This multi-million-pound project will now come out of the taxpayers’ pocket thanks to the detention camp scheme. In 2019, the Home Office spent £89m on detention and an additional £8.9m on compensation for wrongful detention. Each detainee costs an average of £95 a day to keep in detention, this means that for those detained over a month cost on average £2,660 per person.

An image of Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham
Hassockfield Detention Centre, which currently sits on the site in Durham, has been closed since 2015 [Image: Colin Edgar, Geograph]

Now is probably the worst time to be investing the millions of pounds required to build an immigration detention camp when other sectors are more in need of the money. The pandemic has led to the country falling into a harsh recession and a smart budget is needed to uplift those who are being affected the most. Investments such as furlough schemes and extra NHS resources has already led to the government to borrow £214.9bn so far, though nowhere near enough money has been used to actually support those who need it to self-isolate or not have to work.

Transporting large groups of people also shows a lack of consideration to the current public health crisis during the pandemic, on top of wasting additional resources. A detention camp will give little room for people to social distance and the lack of hygiene facilities common in these centres will create a perfect environment for Covid-19 to spread. Camps at Napier barracks and Penally are already experiencing coronavirus outbreaks, putting hundreds of migrants’ lives at risk.

In 2019, the Home Office spent £89m on detention and an additional £8.9m on compensation for wrongful detention

If the government is serious about efficiently and ‘fairly’ detaining people why not do it near the Channel where the so-called crisis is at its apex? It’s a strange hypocrisy, considering the Home Office has been focusing on ‘taking back control’ of our borders.

However, this control makes no sense as the Home Office is simply moving people to Durham which is a similar journey they would have made anyway if they took the routes from Dover instead of crossing the English Channel.

If anything, it appears that the establishment of this immigration camp is simply to act as a monolith to represent the Home Office’s new authority on immigration policy now that the UK is completely disconnected from the EU.

In fact, from what small amount of information the MoJ has revealed in regard to taking this land, it feels that very little thought has actually gone into the development of this camp. Questions over the potential inhumane conditions of this prison are being ignored as campaign groups questions, such as BiD, are being blanked by the Home Office.

Campaign organisations have been campaigning and lobbying for the closure of all detention camps holding migrants and asylum seekers [Twitter, NELMA]

Despite this, the Home Office is throwing all logic and reason aside and sticking to the Patel philosophy of the end justifying the means when it comes to deporting migrants.

It’s a strange hypocrisy, considering the Home Office has been focusing on ‘taking back control’ of our borders

When asked to comment on the situation, a Home Office spokesperson simply recited government narrative while fobbing off public concerns, stating ‘The public rightly expect us to maintain a robust immigration system, which immigration detention plays a crucial role in.’

This site has already housed victims of abuse under a detention facility, showing the consequences of unchecked authority marginalising people from society. It would be insulting to those victims and international law to allow the repetition of such inhumane conditions by creating yet another camp on the site.

[Header Image: Markus Spiske on Unsplash]

Written by
Kieran Isgin