I am writing to you now concerning a grave issue which we feel must be brought to the media’s attention. It is concerning a mass hunger strike that are currently taking place at Harmondsworth Removal Centre (a detention centre holding asylum seekers).
Earlier this month a report by the Independent Asylum Commission found the UK's treatment of asylum seekers was "shameful" and falls "seriously below" the standards of a civilised society. Here we see the ramifications of this surfacing.
Since 1/4/2008 there has been a mass organised hunger strike going on in Harmondsworth IRC. The detainees protest began the 1st April. Almost all detainees, 300 men, refused food from 9am and occupied the courtyard. Around 120 detainees remained in the courtyard all night.
On the 2nd of April the detainees resumed eating late in the day, after meeting with Immigration. However, as no results came from the talks, today the detainees resumed the hunger strike. From this morning Friday the 4th of April almost the totality of detainees in Harmondsworth, 300 men are refusing food.
They wrote and signed a petition (116 signatures) and sent it to the European Court of Human Rights, the local MP John McDonnell and others (the fist page of the petition has been scanned and is attached).
The issue is that they are being deported without having their cases properly heard. It is felt that this is due to time restrictions and bad legal representation, and that they are detained in the meantime, in very bad conditions, without having committed any crime . A “fast track process” means that the detainees are not getting enough time to obtain legal representation and when this is obtained it is of very poor quality. The detainees believe this is a violation of their human rights.
What is fast track:
*The fast track was introduced supposedly to deal quickly with claims that are 'clearly unfunded'. Asylum seekers are given 5 days to prepare their cases and 2 to appeal. Up to 99% of the claims are refused in the first instance. Most appeals fail too. A large number of people whose claims are not 'clearly unfunded', including torture and rape survivors, end up on the fast track. Harmondsworth is a main centre for experimenting with the 'detained fast track': people are detained as soon as they claim asylum and have to deal with their claim from the detention centre.
A lot of the hunger strikers are torture survivors, most of them never had a medical examination from a specialist (whether they required it or not). In the detention centre rules is written that they have to be referred to the Medical Foundation for specialist visit but the MF has admitted they are not receiving any referrals.
M.K., member of SOAS Detainee Support Group, has spoken with several detainees in Harmondsworth, including one man who wants to return to Nigeria, he has signed all the necessary documents etc yet has been held in the centre for over 5 months, for absolutely NO reason, there is nothing pending on his case and he wants to return home. I think one of the possible explanations for such treatment is to make an example of returning asylum seekers and to 'spread the word' effectively that claiming asylum is no easy thing and thus to act as a deterrent to others who are fleeing from persecution
We ask that the public is made aware of the hunger strike and the human rights violations mentioned in this letter. This has been written with a sense of urgency and gives topline information only.
Harmondsworth opened in September 2001 in place of a smaller detention centre also named Harmondsworth. It had to close down a first time in July 2004, after the centre was severely damaged during a detainees uprising. The uprising was ignited by the suicide of detainee Sergey Baraunick. A wave of peaceful protest followed the suicide of detainee Beretek Yohannes in January 2006. In November 2006 the centre had to close down again after being damaged during another uprising. This occurred immediately after the prison inspector Anne Owers published a report in which the centre was strongly criticised. Four men who were arbitrarily accused of causing the damage have recently been acquitted. The centre has now re-opened with reduced capacity and two damaged wings are being worked on to increase capacity and lock up people more tightly.
In 2006, 18,235 refused asylum seekers were removed from the UK .
According to the Home Office, in that year asylum applications hit their lowest level since 1993, while deportations hit an all-time high. According to the Immigration Minister Liam Byrne, someone is deported from Britain every eight minutes.