Over Christmas there have been reports of violence at Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre in Lincolnshire, between groups of inmates and between inmates and prison guards.
Reports from inside are patchy so far, but a picture is emerging of increasing tensions in the lead up to Christmas, produced by ongoing accusations of racism and violence from prison guards toward detainees, interruptions to water in cells that prevented toilets from flushing, poor quality food and accusations that Christmas presents and money that had been sent in had not been distributed. There are reports of a peaceful protest over these conditions by 30 to 40 prisoners on 24 December who refused to return to their cells, which was dispersed by prison officers, and the Prison Officers Association reports that the following day approximately 50 detainees were involved in violence and a serious escape attempt. The BBC and detainees who have spoken to activists outside report that as a result one detainee was sent to hospital, and a further 12 were transferred to other immigration prisons. There have also been reports of a fight between groups of Afghan and Vietnamese detainees, which detainees say prison guards responded to with indiscriminate violence.
What the reports in the media neglect, is how violence is built in to the system of immigration detention and deportation. Imprisonment of people against their will for no reason other than immigration status (overwhelmingly determined by a person’s country of origin), often for a very uncertain duration, is an act of violence. The deportation of thousands of people every year back to situations they have fled subjects many directly to situations of war, state persecution and other forms of violence. And refugees in the UK asylum system have repeatedly pointed out the conflicts that are bred by cooping up people of different nationalities, cultures and religions, many of whom have backgrounds of serious trauma, which for many have been compounded by their experiences since arriving in Britain, in the same confined space. The dispersal of those involved in ‘disturbances’ to other immigration prisons is well established as the British state’s preferred tactic of trying to neutralise detainees’ resistance, and the use of detention continues to increase, with 3,091 people detained solely under immigration powers as of 30 September 2012, the highest figure since records began. As long as refugees and other migrants continue to suffer such oppressive conditions, it seems inevitable that resistance will continue. Until the fundamental and everyday violence of detention and deportations is ended, these kinds of disturbances can be expected to continue.