No To Hassockfield—local Campaign Opposing Immigration Detention Centre at Medolmsley Continues

Plans to re-open the site of the notorious Medomsley Detention Centre as an Immigration Detention Centre for women, have continued. However, whilst the Ministry of Justice had said it would open in the summer, in discussion with the No To Hassockfield campaign they have confirmed it is more likely to have its first women detainees around the end of October.

The campaign against its opening has grown in size. together with Abolish Detention, Durham Peoples Assembly and Women for Refugee Women, N2H are holding demonstrations the 3rd Saturday of each month 11-2pm at the site. Local ITV news gave coverage to August’s demo.

There is a prayer vigil held every 1st Sunday of the month at 3pm, organised by the justice and peace movement, and every Saturday, Dorothy Sotelo of No to Hassockfield is co-ordinating a group of 3-4 demonstrators to be present for an hour to make some noise at the site. This will become increasingly important when detainees are present at the site.

Richard Holden, the area’s Conservative MP has claimed the centre will provide good quality jobs, which he says are much needed for local residents.

Peter Hill, trade unionist said “Richard Holden MP claims the centre will bring many 'good jobs' to the area. But these jobs will be with outsourcing firm Mitie, notorious for its bad employment practices across a range of sectors, as well as its mistreatment of detainees. Just this year, unions Unite, Unison and GMB have condemned Mitie for discriminatory policies against workers (at Heathrow airport), Covid safety failures, and breaking promises to pay the living wage and unsocial hours payments (for NHS workers during the Covid pandemic). He doesn't mention the alternative use for the Hassockfield site: a housing and leisure development which had previously been planned. That would bring local jobs too - if the centre's development was cancelled.”

The campaign against the centre opening is extremely concerned about the effect of indefinite detention on detainees’ mental health. While detention of any kind should not be used for people who are fleeing war and persecution, it should be noted that the UK is the only member of the 47 Member State Council of Europe to use the inhumane practice of indefinite detention.

Helen Groom, retired Gateshead GP and No To Hassockfield Campaigner said;

“As a GP in Gateshead I looked after two ex-detainees from Medomsley whose lives were blighted by severe PTSD and memories of the abuse they suffered there. I’m horrified to think that we could now be locking up women, many of whom have already been deeply traumatised, when what they are seeking is sanctuary. I want to see Hassockfield closed before it opens, so that no more suffering takes place on this site.”

The Home Office say that timescales for opening the centre (which they have rechristened Derwentside IRC as a marketing change) have slipped a bit . They have a number of things that they must do before opening which include building medical facilities (which Durham County Council gave planning permission for in late August), providing multi faith chaplaincy, and setting up an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) recruitment for which took place during September.

Julie Ward, Former MEP Mental Health Ambassador, women's rights campaigner and member of the No To Hassockfield Campaign, said,
"Women are hugely impacted by conflict and various global crises, including climate breakdown, which leads to unsustainable lives, extreme poverty, hunger, increased violence and risk of trafficking. We also see how authoritarian regimes seek to limit women's freedoms and punish them for aspiring to be educated, to run businesses, to stand for elected office, to wear what they wish.

Women asylum seekers have often experienced terrible violence at every stage of their journeys. Detention is a form of institutional state violence, which can have a profound psychological impact for years to come. Instead of locking up vulnerable women with the intention of deporting them back to face the likelihood of more violence, we should be treating them with compassion and dignity. The UK is out of step with many of its neighbours in the way it treats those seeking asylum.

It would be very easy for those of us in the UK to give up, to turn our backs and do nothing. But fundamentally we are a welcoming nation and in joining the campaign to Stop Hassockfield we can feel energised and empowered through collective action. The very act of protest is an act of resistance which can help to assuage our own feelings of helplessness. Standing in solidarity with people seeking sanctuary and against the government's inhumane system is a joyful act of resistance. At our regular monthly peaceful protests outside the site we sing, enjoy poems, watch theatre performances and listen to inspiring speeches and moving testimonies. We have made new friends and we have discovered new things about ourselves. We feel we CAN do something and that alone is good for our mental health. We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others."

MHNE have spoken out against the government’s plans for the site and continue to support the No 2 Hassockfield campaign, committing to do everything we can to monitor the mental health and wellbeing of anyone held at this proposed facility.

If people want to know more about the campaign or any of the demonstrations, please email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or visit the campaign website: https://notohassockfield.org.uk/ or on Facebook - @No2Hassockfield   /  Twitter @No2Hassockfield