Media silence over Harmondsworth hunger strike reflects failure of UK govt policy

Richard Sudan
Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
Reuters / Toby Melville TM / MD
Hunger strikes taking place among detainees at a notorious immigration detention centre in protest at the conditions they are forced to live in have reportedly spread to a second site - with barely any mainstream media coverage.

Many feel the lack of coverage is partly due to the government wanting to keep the lid on a potential scandal in the run up to the election.With the battleground for the election indeed being fought around immigration, it’s likely that questions about the treatment of those detained by the Home Office could undermine the Conservative-led government's bid to secure a majority.

Hundreds of inmates at Harmondsworth detention facility are said to have taken part in the protest, and on Tuesday RT’s sources suggested that hunger strikes had also spread to a second detention facility.

Morton Hall removal centre in Lincolnshire, has also been the subject of closer scrutiny with hunger strikes taking place as recently as a few days ago - and which have now reignited in solidarity with detainees at hunger striking at Harmondsworth.

People held in such prison-like centers, often die in suspicious circumstances. Many detainees, groups and activists maintain that the inhumane treatment that is often reported from within immigration removal centers goes ignored or unnoticed.

Some of the stories of those detained and held, denied basic rights and often a fair chance to mount a legal case for asylum have been published on the blog 'detained voices'.

On Wednesday morning reports suggested that some detainees had been forcibly removed from the notorious Harmondsworth to be deported.

The controversial and increasingly draconian policy has continued to be implemented despite calls from activists and campaigners highlighting the fact that many who enter the UK are often persecuted and are fleeing war torn and famine stricken countries.

Britain, as a member of the EU and of the international community has a legal and moral responsibility to provide safety to those fleeing persecution, especially when in recent years Britain’s foreign policy has undoubtedly contributed to a worsening refugee crisis in some parts of the world.

It is important to understand, contrary to constant smearing of immigrants in the MSM, that people who arrive in Britain are seeking sanctuary.

Many also believe that the system itself is failing, with the Home Office increasingly outsourcing deportations to the likes of G4S - the inhuman and sometimes fatal treatment of migrants handled by such companies being well documented.

Human rights groups and lawyers also argue that much of the time, detainees are deported back to their country of origin despite having a legal right to remain, and that evidence of a strong legal case and important details are often intentionally left to slip through the cracks.

Despite the fact that the UK general election which is to be held in May, will be largely fought around immigration it seems that the story, which reflects the reality of the British state's treatment of immigrants is not worthy of wider coverage.

Many people and campaign groups believe that the influence of government has extended as far as the media, and that people demanding better conditions and basic rights at detention centers, reflecting years of failed government policy, is simply too embarrassing to be focused on and goes against the prevailing narrative.

Thousands of people are held in facilities like these, with witness accounts from inside suggesting that self-harm, suicide rates and ill treatment are common.

The Home Office maintains that such barbaric conditions are a necessary part of a robust immigration system. Despite reports from inside Harmondsworth suggesting that conditions people are held in are not fit for animals, calls for a change seem to have fallen on deaf ears.But maybe this shouldn’t come as a shock. This is the same government after all which introduced the ‘go home’ immigration vans designed very simply and cynically to intimidate and bully people, and to also convince others that its ‘Johnny foreigner’ who is to blame for the state of the economy-not companies which make billions and pay no tax or the parliamentarians who work for them.

Judging by the lack of coverage this story has garnered- a story which highlights the plight and daily struggle of people forced to live in subhuman conditions-it’s clear that it runs against the divide and rule narrative. Compared to say, the Jeremy Clarkson debacle this week which shows an out of touch relic from a different era mouthing off predictable bigotry, (supported coincidently by someone equally out of touch, David Cameron) the scandal at Harmondsworth has received virtually no major coverage.

Let’s not forget too, that those who end up held in such prison like centers are among those lucky ones who make it to our shores successfully. Many people attempting to make the perilous journey to the UK by crossing the Mediterranean die in the process. As part of a wider shift to the right in Europe reflected through policy, the resources allocated for rescue operations to save those caught in dangerous seas have been cut.

Cynics would argue, that people without legal status in the UK should be removed end of story, and that there is nothing controversial about this process. The Home Office, UKBA and the likes of G4S are the victims here, simply trying to carry out a job and make a profit.

However, the way this story has been side-lined tells a true story about the British government’s view and policy towards immigrants. They are poor, without any legal status, and with virtually no legal rights. Historically, immigrants, and people arriving in Britain have made huge contributions to British society.In the present day people granted leave to build a life in Britain are a crucial pillar of the economy. The irony of the situation, given Britain’s role in colonizing the world knows no bounds.Its seems unimaginable, that some of the most vulnerable in our society, in most need of help would have to resort to hunger striking in order to establish basic rights.

It’s hard to imagine with such a stale mainstream media, the reality of life for those forced to live in prison-like conditions will result in any serious attention in the run up to the UK election. The ill-treatment of migrants in detention centers is nothing new nor is the attempts to highlight it by activists, human rights groups and lawyers and by some in the media. This reality is however, inconvenient for the government's line.

The racist undertone here is as clear as ever. Governments past and present consider migrants as an inconvenience and as a political football, an issue to be used to gain favor. At the moment, it is popular, as throughout the rest of Europe to line up against those seeking refuge.The media simply follow suit.

People should be mortified by this story and some are. But many in the media would rather focus on scandals involving celebrities than on people who simply need help and who should be provided it. This has to change.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.