Socialist Worker

Refugees go on hunger strike—close the camps

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2444

Harmondsworth detention centre

Harmondsworth detention centre (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Over 100 refugees at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre near Heathrow airport Have gone on hunger strike.

Detainees began protesting last Sunday and released a letter complaining about the conditions. “Everyone here is burning in the fire of uncertainty, that is the worst form of mental and physical torture, without any offence or crime and without any punishment decided by the court,” it said.

They occupied the exercise yard on Monday of this week, chanting “Freedom, freedom, freedom!”

John McDonnell MP, whose constituency includes Harmondsworth, told Socialist Worker, “Detainees are justifiably protesting at the injustice of the fast track system.

“This rapidly removes people from our country without time or facilities to put their case for asylum status effectively and fairly.

“The real issue though is the immorality of detaining people who have committed no crime—unless it is now a crime to flee from abuse of human rights or crippling poverty. The solution to the protests is simple. Close down Harmondsworth Detention Centre.”


The centre is run by private firm Mitie. A Channel 4 news investigation showed undercover filming by Corporate Watch, which included Mitie’s senior manager at the facility saying prisoners will be locked in their cells for an extra two hours each night.

Many of the showers and toilets are broken. A staff member says, “80 percent of washing machines and dryers are broken.”

Protests have spread to Tinsley House near Gatwick, where 32 are on hunger strike.

A deportation flight was set to take eight Afghan refugees at 10.30pm on Tuesday night. One of the Afghans is Hamid Mohammad, who told Channel 4, “There we die cruelly. Here we die softly.”

A parliamentary report into detention released this month calls the system “expensive, ineffective and unjust”. 

The arbitrary nature of “failing asylum” was shown last week when Aderonke Apata’s appeal against deportation was denied. 

She claimed asylum because she is a lesbian who faces persecution if returned to Nigeria. Her girlfriend was killed by vigilantes. Yet the Home Office rejected her appeal because she has children and was previously in a heterosexual relationship.

Campaign group Right to Remain has backed Aderonke and is calling on supporters of migrant rights to join the Stand Up to Racism demonstrations on 21 March. A migrant rights bloc is planned for the London march.

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