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The truth about Yarls Wood detention centre

John | 22.03.2002 20:07

The failure of the UK asylum system.

On the 17th January Home Secretary David Blunkett opened what was announced as Europe's biggest asylum centre. It was a lavishly appointed establishment in Yarl's Wood, Bedfordshire, which had cost £100 million. In a Daily Mail report the following day, it was observed that the facilities at Yarl's Wood would not be out of place in a luxury hotel.

The centre was designed to accommodate illegal immigrants whose applications for settlement in the UK had been turned down and were awaiting deportation. Not any old facilities for these people! Despite the fact that in entering this country they had broken our laws, the attitude of the Government was: nothing but the best for them! While waiting to go home (it they are ever sent there!) they were able to enjoy video games, satellite TV, two gyms, weight-training rooms, outdoor five-a-side football pitches, volleyball and basketball. NHS patients lying on trolleys in our Third World-standard hospitals would have envied them.

But were the immigrants grateful to the British Government and taxpayers for all these mod cons? Just a month afterwards they gave their answer. Following some dispute over a woman thought to be from Eastern Europe who had complained about lack of medical treatment, a large-scale riot broke out. Officers were attacked, and the rioting inmates started a series of fires throughout the buildings. In one incident four female nurses were locked in the medical centre by detainees, then burning paper was pushed under the locked door. Fortunately, the nurses escaped just in time.

There was then a break-out of some 23 inmates. Ten were subsequently captured quite quickly afterwards, but the remainder got away.

Fire damage has been estimated at £38 million.

To say there are red faces at the Home Office in consequence of this incident would be to understate the case. Our politicians have been telling us for years that we must be nice to the asylum-seekers, that they are poor, innocent people mostly fleeing from persecution, that the Government has the asylum system under control and that in due course all the applications will be sorted out to the satisfaction of everybody. In the meantime, there has been mounting public anger at the inability of the authorities to control the flood and, not least, at the vast public expense that has been incurred in providing the gate-crashers with living quarters, allowances and additional amenities such as those at Yarl's Wood. In fact, once it has been ruled that people have entered this country illegally they should be dispatched with the minimum of delay and in the meantime housed in the most basic of conditions.

But taking an overview of the matter, we should recognise that the reason these people have come to Britain in the first place is that word has got around the countries from which they come that we are the softest touch of all the developed, western nations; that we have a government that cares more for immigrants than for its own people and will bend over backwards to give the newcomers everything that they demand - while sometimes criminalising indigenous citizens who dare to object. The UK has become Tom Tiddler's Ground for all humanity. If you're prepared to take the risks getting here, mate, once you arrive you've got it made!

Of course, we should not take it out on all the asylum-seekers for the incendiary activities of a few. No doubt, for the troublemakers and arsonists at Yarl's Wood there were plenty others who were appreciative of their treatment (they damned well should be!) and just wanted to go home peacefully.

But the fiasco of Yarl's Wood adds up to a devastating indictment of Tony Blair's Government: for the soft and weak way in which it has dealt with the invaders, for the delay in kicking them out and for the ridiculous public expense it has incurred in giving them hand-outs and luxuries which only encourage more to come.

The Government's asylum policy has gone up in smoke - literally in the case of Yarl's Wood. But will lessons be learned? Knowing this gang, we doubt it.