Hunger strike in UK immigration detention center spreads

Hundreds of asylum seekers at UK immigration detention centers are on hunger strike over sub-standard housing conditions in several facilities.

The latest updates from the inmates’ social media pages, posted on Friday morning, say immigration officers had taken the names of the protesters.

Several hundred asylum seekers at Harmondsworth detention center, near London’s Heathrow Airport, have been on hunger strike since Monday. A reported 300 migrants are participating in the strike at the detention facility, which houses around 620 men. Hunger strikes and protests have been breaking out in similar centers since last week.

RT talked to another inmate, currently at Harmondsworth, who says that"Most are now very angry. Two days ago two Pakistanis collapsed because they'd not had a meal since Sunday."Apparently, 150 people hadn't eaten since Sunday. One inmate is reportedly crying that he just wants to go back home to his country,"but they'll never let him go, because when they keep you here they make more money."

The unnamed inmate added that the authorities "should stop lying on monthly reports just to damage our credibility for this country (sic). We are not criminals, we are humans! We are not animals!" This is what he said when asked if he had a message to send out.

The detainees are publishing their experiences through @detainedvoices on Twitter, Facebook and Wordpress. One Harmondsworth hunger striker reported Wednesday that several people had collapsed from lack of food and water.

Dr. Lisa Doyle, Head of Advocacy at campaign group the Refugee Council, told RT: “It’s hardly surprising that people imprisoned inside Britain’s detention estate are protesting.

“It’s extremely distressing for asylum seekers to be locked up when they haven’t done anything wrong with no release date in sight.

“Ministers must accept that the cat is out of the bag: immigration detention is inhumane, expensive and inefficient. If the government wants to prove it's serious about justice and protecting vulnerable people then it’s high time they consigned the whole system to the history books where it belongs,” she added.

Britain’s Home Office estimates that some 30,000 migrants and asylum seekers are detained indefinitely in the country while their immigration status is resolved. Many are held for months or even years.

In an open letter to the Home Office, detainees submitted a list of grievances. They complain of inadequate healthcare and access to legal service, noting that sometimes no legal counsel is provided for them at all.

Many first-person detainee accounts are also being published on the Detained Voices website.

“Nobody’s listening, nobody defends us,” one detainee said in a telephone recording obtained by RT. “It’s not humanity. They are treating us like we are animals or less than animals.”

“Stop keep[ing] people in detention without any reason,” he urged.

These thousands of migrants are detained under the controversial Detained Fast Track (DTF) program, which was set up in 2002 to deal with the uptick in asylum applications. Since 2008, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed concern about the program, calling it unfair and noting that the UK uses detention in asylum procedures much more often than other European countries.

Also speaking to RT, Dr Juliet Cohen, Head of Doctors at the medical charity Freedom from Torture said: “These reports highlight the inhumanity of the UK's system for detaining immigrants and asylum seekers; a system in which vulnerable individuals, including torture survivors, are the principle victims.

“The safeguard intended to protect vulnerable people, including torture survivors, from being wrongly routed into detention has consistently been found to be failing. It is shocking that, in spite of this recognition, nothing has been done to significantly improve the screening process to identify those for whom detention might be seriously damaging.

READ MORE: ‘I just wanted to die’: Asylum seeker detained at Yarl’s Wood speaks to RT

“Our doctors regularly examine torture survivors who have been wrongly detained under the immigration rules and whose health we believe has been significantly adversely affected by this experience. In extreme cases, our clients have turned to self-harm or attempted suicide after experiencing re-traumatization in detention.”

Cohen said the “inhumane system” should be overhauled to ensure vulnerable and traumatized individuals whose detention is for “administrative convenience and no other reason” are given the “protection they came to the UK to claim.”

The protests come in the wake of a damning UK parliamentary inquiry published last week. The report confirmed alleged abuse and inhumane conditions in centers throughout the country. Parliamentarians also called for a 28-day maximum on immigration detention to be introduced.

Speaking to RT, a Home Office spokesperson said the welfare of detainees was taken “very seriously.”

“Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls. It is vital these are carried out with dignity and respect and we take the welfare of our detainees very seriously,” the spokesperson said.

“That's why the Home Secretary last month commissioned an independent review of detainees' welfare to be conducted by the former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw.

“Detention is only ever used as a last resort after all attempts to encourage individuals to leave voluntarily have failed,” the Home Office added.