Imprisoned refugees assaulted during UK anti-deportation protest, hunger strike ensues

An Anti-deportation demonstration called for the end of UK immigration detention centres. Detainees alleged they were bullied, beaten and locked in their cells during the protest and instigated a hunger strike in response to their treatment.

Detained refugees at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook removal centres claimed they were beaten and locked up in their rooms to avoid witnessing an anti-deportation demonstration taking place outside the centre. One detainee, Michael Etim, a pastor from Nigeria, was removed to solitary confinement after using a telephone inside the centre to contact the protestors. In protest of their treatment 97 detainees in Colnbrook immediately went on hunger strike and are continuing to refuse food and water. The demonstration on April 8, organised by the No Borders Network, saw over 250 people gather outside the gates of the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook removal centres, which are situated side-by-side, near Heathrow airport. There was a heavy police presence. Metal barricades were erected to create a “pen” to contain the protest. The demonstration organisers demanded the closure of all UK detention centres and highlighted the hypocrisy of UK immigration policy that continues to send people back to war zones and countries with appalling human rights records. The UK imprisons more refugees than any other European country. Last year up to 25,000 people were incarcerated in UK immigrant detention centres. 15,000 were removed back to their country of origin. After detainees inside Harmondsworth and Colnbrook were refused their daily exercise in the open air, they tried to view the demonstration through the windows. Some used telephones to contact the protest and spoke to the demonstrators via mobile phones plugged into a makeshift sound system. One detainee in Colnbrook said the guards ordered the detainees back into their rooms. When the detainees refused he claimed they were forcibly removed and locked up. He said some people were beaten. Mr Etim, who has been in detention for eight months, thanked the protestors for their support via telephone. “We understand the main objective of this [the demonstration] is to open up this rather harsh and satanic behaviour,” he said. “We are quite concerned,” he added. “Most of us are from the other parts of the world and have great respect for the First World. And for this to happen here, it’s really daunting to have people locked up here indefinitely. Some of us have been here for more than three years.” Mr Etim was removed from his cell by “10 to 15 guards” shortly after the telephone call to the demonstrators. “I was accused of incitement,” he said, adding the Colnbrook authorities accused him of asking other detainees not to eat. As a religious pastor Mr Etim regularly fasted several days every month. He was taken to solitary confinement and held there for over 24 hours. Whilst there Mr Etim said he heard guards shouting and detainees screaming and crying, coming from other cells in that wing. The demonstration was relatively peaceful. The only trouble arrived after police enforced Section 14 of the Public Order Act and designated “the pen” as the authorised demonstration zone. A group of 30 demonstrators tried to return to the main demonstration after walking round the perimeter fence of the detention centre to “wave at detainees”. Scuffles broke out as police tried to contain the protestors. Some demonstrators claimed the police were heavy-handed. One man sustained an injury to his chin, which he claimed was from being pushed against a metal fence by police officers. One man was arrested for refusing to give his name and address, but was later released after complying with the police.