The independent London newspaper

Our borders are secured by cruelty and incompetence

03 May, 2018

• AS the planes fly into Heathrow on the north runway their starboard wing will skim over a very large, sinister looking, brown building with few windows and surrounded by chain-link fencing and razor wire.

This is Harmonds­worth Detention Centre, our centre for holding entrants to Britain and for those awaiting deportation.

This building was extended under our prime minister when she was home secretary for her “hostile environment” policy and, to quote the Home Office aim, “in the national interest”.

This is where men languish for days, and weeks, and even years, while their documents (if they have not been shredded) are processed.

Sometimes they are put back on a plane to where they have come from. Sometimes, after lengthy court cases, often conducted by incompetent Home Office solicitors, they are released.

If they have wives and children, these are taken to another detention centre at Yarl’s Wood, a group of buildings near Bedford, with few windows, and galleries like a prison. Here women and children are held in frightening misery.

There are records of sexual assault by the male guards. So much misery that two months ago the women rioted and had to be dispersed by riot police.

The women frequently go on hunger strike and are detained in corridors, with no water or lavatories. Children are transported in cages in vans.

In these large, grim, buildings the policy of “hostile environment” is enacted. True to Conservative ideology these prisons are run by private companies for profit.

In another age, and hostile environment, there was a board game that was made for young German children in the 1930s called Juden Raus.

The idea of the game was to see who could push out the most brightly painted Jewish dolls from the city by throws of a dice. When the city was empty the winner was declared.

The regime at Harmondsworth, that has been running under Theresa May’s watch, has been scenes of bureaucratic incompetence and cruelty.

Other European countries do not go in for such long, and miserable, detentions or in such sinister and hostile buildings.

If you have ever been detained in a foreign airport for only one hour, while guards look at your passport, you will know how frightening that wait can be.

There is no reason why the buildings could not be smaller units in a compound to enable families to stay together. At least they could cry together.

South Hill Park Gardens, NW3


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