BRITAIN: Yarls Wood detention centre closed

Issue 

BY TERRICA STRUDWICK

Yarls Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, Britain, was closed on March 31 after a fire devastated the complex on February 14. The detention centre was built without a sprinkler system. Group 4, the company which manages all detention centres in Britain, closed its doors after insurers refused cover until the company paid for and installed a new sprinkler system.

Britain's other detention centres — Campsfield, Tynsley, Haslar, Lindholme, Dungavel and Harmondsworth — are already bursting at the seams, so it is likely that most asylum seekers have been placed in prisons.

The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns reported that 70 people demonstrated at the gates of Yarls Wood on March 30 as the last of the detainees moved out.

The British Labour government's Home Office secretary David Blunkett insists the rioting detainees set the detention centre alight: "Having removed all asylum seekers from prison, we now find that our reward is that they burn down a substantial part of the facility. This is deplorable."

Detainees reported that the fire started in a restricted area that no detainees had access to. There were also claims that the need to contain detainees hampered fire-fighting efforts.

The Home Office has confirmed rumours that a number of detainees who may have had very important and potentially embarrassing information relating to the fire at Yarls Wood have been deported. This is despite a spokesperson from the Home Office claiming that "witnesses and potential offenders will remain available to police investigation".

While the closing down of one of seven detention centres in Britain is a positive thing, it will not become a trend. The Home Office is confident the closure is only temporary.

Blunkett is intent on toughening conditions for asylum seekers: "I intend to press ahead with expanding the number of places in secure removal centres to 4000. There will be no uncertainty and no misunderstanding."

An indication of the tougher regime is the proposal to build another five centres, for which tenders have already been sought. Britain already has the worst record for the detention of asylum seekers in Europe. The use of detention is set to get worse.

From Green Left Weekly, April 10, 2002.

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