Pennine House protest: A reply to Woolas

Last month, 100 people demonstrated outside Pennine House, a purpose-built immigration prison at Manchester airport where migrants are locked up even though they haven’t committed a criminal offence. In the ‘Big Issue in the North’, the immigration minister Phil Woolas has responded to the protest with a number of inaccuracies. Here we set the record straight.

“Pennine House has been there for many years – why they are protesting about it now, I’m not quite sure.”

It’s not really that surprising, is it? Since Phil Woolas got the job of immigration and borders minister, he has been the most draconian and arrogant member of Brown’s cabinet. Remember him declaring war on migrant communities and their friends? Well, that’s us fighting back.

“It reopened because the old facility was not fit for purpose, and was refurbished. I would have thought they would have agreed with that.”

How dishonest can you be? Woolas wants to detain and deport more and more asylum seekers and thus plans to expand the detention capacity by 60% - to over 4,000 places. Pennine House was not just refurbished but was doubled in size, from 16 to 32 places.

Sure it was also refurbished after even the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons criticised it as a "poor" and "disrespectful" environment. There is finally a courtyard that received natural light, but the trade-off was that detainees can no longer receive visitors inside their living quarters but must meet their visitors in a special meeting room.

“I believe they think we should have no border control. I don’t think I can take that as a serious position.”

This is certainly a radical proposition. But it can’t just be reduced to a dislike of migration control. The border system that Woolas is in charge of is a mess – and it’s the most vulnerable who suffer most. This system can’t just be reformed; we need a complete overhaul of it. For us this means an end to all forms of authoritarian control – be they ID cards, the DNA register, police surveillance, or indeed the control of people’s movement.

“The people who are detained are people who have not co-operated with the judicial system. It is a relatively small number of people.”

An estimated 30,000 people are locked up in an immigration detention centre every year, including 2,000 children. This is not a small number, especially as it means that families, friends and communities are torn apart. And let’s remember that the majority of detainees have not committed any crime, have not had a trial or received a sentence.

Rather, they are arrested and detained when their asylum claims are refused, their visas run out, or they are otherwise deemed to "not have the right" to be in this country. This includes school and university students, migrant workers and families who have long been settled in the UK and who are often 'snatched' in dawn raids from their homes.

It is “not true” that vulnerable people are detained at Pennine House. “Sometimes they are dangerous people.”

Many asylum seekers and migrants lacking the right legal documents face a constant threat of being snatched by police and immigration officials in dawn raids or in swoops on their workplaces. Many have escaped violent conflict and war in their countries of origin and lived through traumatic journeys to the UK. Despite this, many display an amazing strength of character and sense of dignity. We are yet to meet a single immigration detainee who has been as dangerous to other people as the immigration and security staff accused of beating and torturing migrants in the back of Border Agency vans and in detention centres.

“They are people who have been judged not to have a legitimate immigration claim by the courts. That is not down to the government.”

The legal requirements for immigration claims as well as the decision to detain people in immigration prisons and to deport them are made by the government. The courts judge according to the law made by government policy.

“The facility is humane. It is subject to independent monitoring.”

A new lick of paint doesn’t change anything to the fact that locking up people who haven’t committed a crime can never be ‘humane’. We can only reiterate the call that we made with the demonstration: Abolish All Immigration Prisons!

Posted byManchester No Borders at 2:12 PM