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Harmondsworth Detainees punished over protest at suicide

NCADC suppporter | 26.01.2006 15:30 | Anti-racism | Migration | Repression

Not long after the suicide of Bereket Yohannes at Harmondsworth last Thursday, detainees met amongst themselves to discuss the death. They had a meeting with management to discuss their concerns over the death and in a 'Peaceful protest' issued a public statement below. Since then UK Detention Services and the Home Office have acted quickly to punish those who dared to protest.

Detainees are now reporting that all of those involved in the peaceful protest were moved to isolation (Secure cells) and mandatory forms for moving them from open to closed conditions completed by officers gave simply "indiscipline" as the reason. Many of these detainees have now been transferred to Colnbrook Short Term Holding Centre and two to Dungavel immigration Removal Centre.

It has been very difficult keeping in contact with detainees by phone that are in "Secure" or being moved around the "detention estate" from one removal centre to another. One detainee in "Secure" at Harmondsworth did manage to call the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) to say he was being transferred to Colnbrook. He said a fellow detainee taken to "Secure" had been coughing up blood, and alleges he was denied his medication. And thanked NCADC for arranging a visitor to come and see him, he said: "it meant everything to me because we are locked up in our rooms".

Many observers feeling that moving detainees into "Secure" and transferring detainees, which may very well dislocate them from local visitors and their solicitor (if they have one), may escalate an already fragile climate.

After Sergey Baranuyck committed suicide in Harmondsworth, Sue McAllister - Head of Security Group HM Prison Service - said "It is not uncommon for detainees to react aggressively to the death of a fellow detainee and to suspect foul play by staff. Staff might have been expected to anticipate this and to have taken action to defuse the situation." The Contract Monitor at Harmondsworth said there was no evidence of any real attempt by staff at the time to de-escalate the situation.

Information passed to NCADC say Bereket Yohannes, the 26-year-old Eritrean who committed suicide at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre last Thursday, arrived in the UK from Italy in October 2005. The same source said he was detained on arrival in the UK, taken to Dover Immigration Removal Centre and then to Harmondsworth in December. Bereket had Removal Directions for February but that the deportation had been deferred pending a Judicial Review. Detainees at Harmondsworth say that the deportation was not to be to either Eritrea or back to Italy, but to Sudan.

Sky News video-clip
Zimbabwean ex-detainee, Harris, describes how he was on suicide watch in Harmondsworth and driven to a hunger strike. The video-clip covers the Harmondsworth detainee's complaints of conditions they feel contributed to last week's suicide. Tim Baster of Immigration Bail for Detainees describes the lack of adequate legal representation for detainees regarding their indefinite detention. Sky News reported that the Home Office were unable to comment.
Watch the video-clip:,30000-asylumnu_p1782,00.html#

Fortress Europe Vigil - Saturday 28th Jan - 5.30pm, Manchester
For those we have lost and those we miss

Vigil for Bereket at Harmondsworth this Sunday
A vigil in memory of Bereket Yohannes will be held at 12 noon this coming
Sunday 29th January outside Harmondsworth
Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre
Colnbrook by Pass
West Drayton
Contact: Barbed Wire Britain Network to End Refugee and Migrant Detention
Tel: 01865 558 145 / 07786 517 379 / 07754 813 775 / 01993 703994


Sources for this article
Harmondsworth detainees
Sky News
Barbed Wire Britain


61 detainees detained in Harmondsworth signed a joint statement on Friday 18th January with ten demands concerning conditions at Harmondsworth

Statement of 61 detainees at Harmondsworth:

"We the detainees of Harmondsworth, having considered the various ill treatment being melted to us, having come out with the following complaints that need to be addressed and abated immediately.

The following points could have led to the unwarranted death of one of our beloved friends.
1. It is absolutely ridiculous and obviously unjustifiable to keep immigrants against their wish, even those who have stated their intention to go back to their country voluntarily. Asylum seekers' fate has already been decided even before they go to court and as a result are automatically refused asylum. We are all therefore left in dehumanising and depressing conditions for a better part of our lives. We strongly resist these demeaning actions being melted out to us and ask that we be released immediately.

2. Detainees' freedom of speech is totally denied us, as we are not given the opportunity to contribute our own views and opinions in such a way as to make positive impact on our conditions of living. In fact, our opinions are baseless and irrelevant as far as the management and staff of UKDS is concerned. We therefore call for a complete reversal.

3. Freedom of movement is totally ruled out and every outlet leading to various association areas like gymnasium, education and worship centres are permanently locked against easy access to the user of the facilities they are in. UKDS officers make us feel that we are an inconvenience and our and our timely movement is only at the disposal of the authority.

4. The most alarming problem facing the detainees is their susceptibility to a hazardous and unhealthy environment as every single window in all the rooms in the various wings are sealed. Communicable diseases are therefore likely to be transferred from one detainee to another. The rooms most times are always very hot and uncomfortable, although we don't however expect to have comfort in "advance slavery". We are not breathing normally and are usually very weak. We are gradually suffocating to death. What a degrading condition.

5 The available facilities, specifically the central air conditioning systems, are not functioning; they are only hanging on the ceilings like decorative frames. You can imagine a facility designed to save the windowless nature of the building not functioning for months and people (glorified neglected human beings) are locked in here. This is indisputably barbaric. This only brings to our memory the slavery era of our great ancestors.

6. The management are aware of how passionately religious Africans and their allies and similar countries' cultures are. They are therefore capitalising on this and using it as a stooge against us by the debarring or discouraging detainees from freely walking into their worship centres without booking 24 hours before the service. This to a large extent has affected interested worshipers and consequently tears on their emotions because this is about the only way they could have a form of relief spiritually to be able to overcome the torture and depressed state they are going through. Only a few days ago we prayed for a detainee in church who was anticipating suicide. This likely would have been the first suicide we would have experienced. What is the fate of those who find it difficult to keep with the restrain confronting them as a result of insensitivity, all in the name of procedures? We are therefore clamouring that people should be allowed to workshop without any constraint.

7. Asylum seekers are even denied chances to exhaust their appeal rights. We are most times denied access to the high court, which is an independent body from the immigration tribunal. We ask that opportunity be given to us to exhaust our appeal.

8. The food being given to detainees would be rejected by some dogs in the United Kingdom. The food is predictably rice and potatoes, with some horrible sauce, day in day out. Most detainees are almost starving themselves to death as we are all tired of eating the same food every single day without any alternative to buy varieties of food, as is obtainable in other detention centres.
9. The way and manner officers disrespect detainees, and other responsible men around, is quite disgusting and very humiliating. You can imagine a situation where a fellow inmate was asked to get out of the dining room just some few seconds after taking his meal, is quite appalling. Officers are fond of threatening detainees with IEP (warning letters) for no just cause; most times we are being accosted and approached like children. We are asking this to stop with automatic effect.

10. The sanitary conditions are very poor, making the whole environment to smell and it could probably be attributed to poor ventilation, which makes the whole place stuffy. We are therefore seizing this opportunity to advise management of our plight and demand for immediate redress of all the stated complaints.

You will agree with us that people are held and detained for longer than necessary most of the time, for even 2 years and more. We advise that people that have to be removed should be given quick removal to their various countries, and those that are considered for stay should be released as soon as possible rather than being kept in the detention centres against their wish and knowing fully well it is against United Nations and human rights regulations.

Owing to the loss of our fellow detainee, every other detainee is currently living under perpetual fear and no body knows who is the next victim. We are therefore demanding that all detainees currently being held right now should as a matter of urgency be released.
Thank you,
Signed by 61 Harmondsworth detainees

NCADC suppporter