By Dale Street
At the time of going to press the jury in the Yarls Wood trial had still to deliver its verdict on the five defendants accused of violent disorder and arson.
Yarls Wood detention centre was opened in late 2001. It was for "end of the road" cases-asylum-seekers who had exhausted the asylum procedure and whose removal from the UK was pending. In February 2002 half of the detention centre was burnt down.
When the Yarls Wood trial opened at the end of April this year there were 10 defendants. Two of them pleaded guilty to lesser charges. In the course of the trial charges against three other defendants were dropped. This left five asylum-seekers from Kosova and Nigeria as defendants.
Group Four-the private security firm which ran Yarls Wood-has been heavily criticised during the trial. They have been condemned by both the prosecutor and the trial judge for pinning up in the staff offices photographs of the defendants-despite being aware that identification was going to be an issue at the trial-and for coaching their employees in preparation for the court case. The Home Office has been criticised for cost-cutting in the construction of Yarls Wood-another PFI "success story".
According to the judge, Yarls Wood was "inadequately constructed". To save money on its construction, for example, no sprinkler system had been installed-contrary to the advice of the local fire authorities.
David Blunkett built Yarls Wood on the cheap. And Group Four ran Yarls Wood on the cheap. But, needless to say, it is not David Blunkett and the management of Group Four who are in the dock at the trial.
Group Four provided its staff with inadequate training. Witnesses at the trial have confirmed that the trigger for the burning down of the detention centre was when members of Group Four were seen to pin a woman detainee to the floor. Witnesses have also confirmed that Group Four management ordered detainees to be locked in their blocks as the centre burnt.
Whatever the verdict in this trial, one thing is for sure: it's the wrong people who have been on trial for the past three months.
Boris Lidovski must stay
Despite having lived and worked legally in this country for more than six years, Cambridge postal worker Boris Lidovski is in danger of being deported to Russia.
Boris arrived in the UK in April 1997. Less than a week after his arrival he applied for asylum. He had been forced to flee Russia after threats and beatings from Mafia racketeers. In December 2001-over four years later-the Home Office rejected Boris's asylum claim.
Boris immediately lodged an appeal. In May/June this year-another year and a half later-Boris's appeal finally took place. His appeal was dismissed. Because the Home Office had "certified" Boris's claim, he has no further right of appeal.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) branch in Cambridge, of which Boris is a member, responded by launching the "Boris Lidovski Must Stay" campaign. The campaign's basic argument is that Boris has been in this country for so long that he is now settled here. It would be unreasonable to remove him to Russia.
Boris has lived in Norwich and Cambridge for more than six years. He has studied English and computing at Cambridge Regional College. For the past five years he has worked for the Royal Mail sorting office in Cambridge. He has bought accommodation in this country, and has no accommodation to return to in Russia.
Boris is on medication for health problems. It is doubtful whether he would be able to obtain such medication in Russia. Boris, who is more than 50 years old, has no family left in Russia to help him. All the friends and acquaintances he has live in this country.
It is not reasonable for the Home Office to remove Boris from the UK.
The campaign has received support from CWU branches throughout the country and from the CWU leadership. Cambridge and District Trades Union Council and local union branches are backing the campaign, as are many members of the Labour Party, of which Boris is himself a member, and Boris's local MP.
- For further information contact Paul Turnbull, CWU rep, Union Office, Cambridge Mail Centre, CB1 7QQ; email@example.com
Support the Oakington detainees
Around 60 detainees at Oakington Detention Centre (ODC) near Cambridge took part in a four-day protest at the end of July and beginning of August. The detainees refused to eat and to return to their blocks from the central compound in the detention centre.
ODC was opened in April 2000. Its purpose was to provide a "fast-track" process for dealing with asylum claims. Asylum-seekers were detained at the centre for a week, during which time their asylum claims were assessed and refused-refusal rates at ODC were 99.98%.
After refusal of their claim, most detainees were then released and allowed to pursue in-country their appeal against the Home Office's decision.
But in November 2002 ODC began to be used for "non-suspensive appeal" (NSA) cases, i.e., asylum-seekers who are returned to their country of origin immediately after refusal of their asylum claim by the Home Office. NSA asylum-seekers can appeal against the refusal of their claim-but only after return to their own country! Refusal rates at ODC increased to 100%.
Initially, asylum-seekers from 10 countries were dealt with under the NSA regime. By mid-July this year asylum-seekers from 22 countries were being dealt with under NSA procedures. Adopting a step-by-step approach, Labour was implementing the Tory policy of detaining asylum-seekers for the duration of the processing of their asylum claim.
NSA asylum-seekers at ODC found themselves waiting weeks for a-negative-decision on their asylum claim. This was then followed by several more weeks of detention while the Home Office sorted out arrangements for their removal to their country of origin.
Increasing frustration among asylum-seekers at prolonged detention and the perfunctory treatment of their asylum claims by the Home Office led to a steady increase in the rate of "absconding" from ODC. Eventually, the frustration took the form of organised collective protest.
The detainees' protest raised general complaints about the ODC regime and the lack of respect for human rights inherent in that regime, and also specific complaints concerning individual asylum-seekers.
The Home Office and Group Four, which runs ODC under contract to the Home Office, decided on a low-key response to the protest. They allowed the protest to run its course whilst simultaneously engaging in negotiations with some of the protesters in order to give the impression that their concerns were being addressed.
Although the protest lasted only a few days, it was certainly not the last such protest. As the Home Office comes up with one new tactic after another to reduce the already limited number of asylum-seekers coming to the UK, more protests by asylum-seekers-even ones deprived of all rights and incarcerated in detention centres-will be provoked. They have a right to expect labour movement support for their protests.
Shut down Dungavel!
The Scottish TUC has organised a demonstration outside Dungavel Immigration Removal/Detention Centre to protest against the detention of asylum seekers, including children. It wants more humane treatment of asylum seekers, closure of detention centres, and all children in Scotland to have access to mainstream education.
The demonstration follows the deportation in August of a Kurdish woman, Yurdugal Ay, and her four children.
Saturday 6 September, 12 noon
Dungavel Detention Centre, Strathaven,
More details: STUC, 0141 337 8100