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Hundreds gather in Durham in protest against immigration centre

By Nicole Goodwin

Hundreds of people from across the UK gathered in Durham city centre today to oppose an immigration removal centre (IRC) in the county.

Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre began detaining women at the end of 2021 and is one of seven IRCs operated by The Home Office in the UK. Derwentside, which was previously known as Hassockfield, will replace Yarl's Wood as the main IRC for detained women and will hold around 80 women at the site.

Today campaigners voiced their disgust at the detention centre at the No2Hassockfield demonstration at Palace Green. They called for the IRC to be shut down and many people also shared horrific accounts of being detained themselves whilst trying to seek asylum.

Read more: County Durham mum forced to sleep in single bed with disabled son to keep him safe at night

Mariatu Sesay, who came to the UK from Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 2001, said: "When I arrived in Manchester my friends were missing. A friend of mine said there was a prison where they take them.

"Every night at 6pm they would take someone. I would look out of the window and every time I saw someone wearing blue I would be terrified that they were going to take me and lock me up. I still have that fear."

Mariatu attended the demonstration with Women Seeking Asylum Together (WAST), a Manchester-based group who campaign for the rights of women seeking asylum in the UK. She added: "We are here for asylum, we are not criminals. It's just not fair to be locking people away."

Campaigners from across the UK gather on the Palace Green in The City of Durham to hold their biggest demonstration to date against the imprisonment of women at Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre in County Durham (Craig Connor/ChronicleLive)

Vicky Marsh also attended from Manchester to join calls for the Derwentside to be shut down. She attended on behalf of Safety4Sisters which works to support migrant women across the North West and has previously called for the closure of Yarl's Wood IRC in Bedford.

Vicky said: "Women live in fear of detention, deportation and many are forced into destitution. This fear lasts for years and years and leads to trauma."

She added: "We fought to get Yarl's Wood closed down and we've heard from women who have been held in detention centres and faced abuse. Now we find that they've opened another detention centre here.

"We'll keep on fighting to get this one shut down."

According to The Home Office, immigration detention makes a limited but essential contribution to tackling illegal migration and protecting the public. Decisions to detain are taken on a case by case basis and policy is clear that detention must only ever be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary.

Campaigner Manono Kawoza said she travelled from Liverpool to Durham today to show her support for No2Hassockfield after experiencing life in an IRC. She said: "I've been in detention and know what it is like in these Western prisons. I want them to close what they have just opened.

"We are not criminals to put us in detention. All we want is to give us work so we can support ourselves and the community."

Manono added that she, like many other asylum seekers, are really struggling due to being unable to work. She said: "Asylum seekers have £35-£40 a week to live off and bills are rocketing. It's really, really hard."

Today's No2Hassockfield demonstration was held from 12pm on Saturday and included a huge line up of people who spoke in support of shutting down Derwentside IRC. Guest speakers lined up to speak at the demonstration included Durham City MP Mary Foy, human rights lawyer Margaret Owen and Roza Salih, an anti-deportation campaigner from the 'Glasgow Girls' documentary.

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Dive Deeper:
Jamaican ‘wrongly’ detained for deportation launches legal action against Home Office
Exclusive: James Matthews was awaiting the outcome of his application to remain in the UK when he was unexpectedly swooped…
'Futile and cruel': plan to charge fees for immigration detention has no redeeming features
Some people in immigration detention could be asked to pay for their own incarceration, as part of a new border…
Coalition, Labor back policy to charge fees for immigration detention, but experts say bills will probably never be paid
Detainees awaiting deportation from Australia on character grounds would be forced to pay back the costs of their accommodation, under…
Man with severe learning disabilities faces being deported to Jamaica
Judge has found 34-year-old, who needs support with basic tasks, would ‘struggle to survive’ if deported
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Almost 500 migrants cross Channel this weekend as total this year passes 8,000
According to official figures, 1,264 people have made the dangerous crossing so far this month alone
‘Unflinching’: Villawood graphic novel wins book of the year at NSW premier’s literary awards
Safdar Ahmed’s Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System lands top prize and $30,000, alongside books by Tony Birch…
Get all your news in one place