Notes for a brief history of resistance in UK detention centres

TV grab from a helicopter shot shows detImage: Harmondsworth 2006.

As resistance spreads through UK detention centres, it may be worth thinking about lessons from protests of the past. What kind of actions have been most successful, increased the power and spirit of prisoners, and won at least some demands and desires? And what kind of acts of solidarity can be most effective from the outside?

As just a first step to thinking about these questions, here is an incomplete (and now a bit out of date) list of hunger strikes, riots and other protests in UK detention in recent years.

Brief history of UK detention regime

1989: Haslar, former naval barracks, starts holding immigration detainees. It has a capacity of 160 people

November 1993: Opening of the 216-person Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire. Currently run by Mitie.

1996: Opening of Tinsley House near Gatwick Airport. Currently run by G4S with a capacity of 119 men and 8 families

2000: Opening of the 112-bed Lindholme detention centre

March 2000: Opening of Oakington, a 400-person fast-track detention centre

September 2001: Harmondsworth, the largest detention centre in the UK with 615 place, opens near Heathrow. It is run by GEO.

September 2001: Dungavel, a former hunting lodge, opens as a detention centre with 190-bed spaces

November 2001: Opening of the 405-bed Yarl’s Wood, the main detention centre for female detainees. Run by Serco.

April 2002: Dover, a former fortress then young offender’s institute, opens as a detention centre for migrants. It is run by HM Prison Service

August 2004: Opening of Colnbrook, a 308-person facility located near Heathrow

December 2008: Opening of Pennine House, a 32-bed short term holding centre next to Manchester Airport

March 2009: Opening of Brook House, a 426-person detention centre near Gatwick Airport, currently run by G4S

November 2010: Closure of the 400 person Oakington detention centre

June 2011: Moreton Hall opens in Lincolnshire. It has a capacity of 392

July 2011: Larne House, a 19-bed short term holding centre, opens in Country Antrim, Northern Ireland

Hunger strikes

February 1994: 11 hunger strike in Campsfield and win release from detention

March 1994: 175 hunger strike in Campsfield, triggering wave of similar actions in detention centres across the UK involving up to 400 people

September 1994: Ghanaians hunger strike in Campsfield

June 1998: 70 hunger strike in Campsfield

September 2001: More than detainees hunger strike in Haslar

April 2002: 40 detainees hunger strike in Dungavel

April 2005: Two Ugandan women hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood

July 2003: 40 detainees hunger strike in Oakington

June 2005: Zimbabweans hunger strike in Campsfield

April 2006: More than 100 detainees hunger stike at Colnbrook

April 2006: 125 detainees hunger strike at Haslar

June 2006: More than 120 people go on hunger strike in Campsfield, after Somali man took to the roof and threatened to kill himself

November 2006: More than 40 detainees go on hunger strike at Colnbrook

December 2006: Over 70 detainees hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood

December 2006: 66 detainees go on hunger strike in Campsfield

June 2007: 70 detainees hunger strike in Dungavel

July 2007: Tamils hunger strike in Campsfield

March 2008: 150 detainees hunger strike at Oakington

April 2008: 300 hunger strike in Harmondsworth and refuse to leave the courtyard

March 2009: All detainees embark on hunger strike at Tinsley House

October 2009: More than 40 Iraqis go on hunger strike at Brook House

January 2010: 100 detainees go on hunger strike in Brook House

February 2010: Over 84 detainees hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood

February 2010: Up to 55 detainees go on hunger strike at Harmondsworth

August 2010: 147 detainees go on hunger strike in Campsfield, statement here

June 2011: 23 Iraqis & 14 Afghans hunger strike at Campsfield

September 2011: 18 Afghans hunger strike in Morton Hall


June 1994: 11 escape from Campsfield

May 1996: 6 attempt to escape Campsfield but are recaptured

September 1999: 2 attempt to escape from Campsfield

September 2003: 20 detainees escape frm Lindholme, half of whom were recaptured within 6 miles of the centre

October 2003: News emerges that 23 people have escaped from Dover IRC over the past year. Only one person was recaptured.

May 2005: News emerges that 13 detainees escaped from Haslar over the course of two years, with nine remaining uncaptured

November 2006: Detainee reportedly escapes Dungavel in a laundry van…-a0154184274

December 2006: 8 reported to have escaped from Oakington over a two week period

August 2007: 26 escape Campsfield

June 2008: 7 escape from Campsfield, in spite of 8m fence

September 2010: 2 escape attempts by Iraqi Kurds at Campsfield, one makes it to London

July 2011: One Algerian and one Egyptian detainees successfully escape from Morton Hall, one month after the centre opens

Riots and other protests

March 1994: Detainees take to the roof at Campsfield in protest and are joined by a solidarity demo outside

June 1994: Riot in Campsfield, rooftop occupation, 11 escape

May 1997: 12 detainees occupy the roof of Campsfield for 36 hrs

August 1997: Up to 200 protest in Campsfield following violent deportation, riot police called in to quell unrest

February 1998: Disorder breaks out in Campsfield

November 1999: 20 detainees stage rooftop protest against their year long detention

April 2002: Reported disturbance in Yarl’s Wood, fire breaks out and destroys half the centre, detainees riot

July 2003: 40 detainees occupy the sports ground at Oakington and refuse to leave in protest at their deportation

July 2004: Unrest in Harmondsworth following the death of a detainee, fires started

June 2005: Fight breaks out between guards and detainees at Dover IRC

November 2006: Riot in Harmondsworth, extensive damage caused, detainees spell out ‘SOS’ and ‘HELP’ in the yard

NB: here is the UK Government’s full 132 page report into the ‘disturbances’ at Harmondsworth (2006) and Campsfield (2007):

December 2006: Detainees protest at Oakington, and 25 barricade themselves into the recreation rooms, leading to a standoff with guards

December 2006: Detainees riot in Lindholme

February 2007: 200 demonstrate at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

March 2007: Riot in Campsfield after an Algerian man resisted deportation, two units set on fire

August 2007: Riot in Campsfield

April 2008: Riot police called after unrest in Harmondsworth

June 2008: Riot in Campsfield

June 2009: Riot at Brook House, fires started

April 2010: More than 100 detainees break through gates and occupy the courtyard following the death of a detainee. They refuse to let the police access the body

October 2010: 25 detainees protest in Dover IRC, demanding answers and justice following the death of Jimmy Mubenga

May 2011: Detainees protest the continued detention in isolation of two detainees, riot police sent in to break up the protest

September 2011: Afghan detainees smash up parts of Harmondsworth after another Afghan is beaten by guards. Police are sent in and some detainees taken to solitary confinement

October 2011: Harmondsworth. Fight between guards and Afghan detainees, police sent in, detainees hospitalised. Charter flight may have been cancelled.
Source: personal

Actions in solidarity with detainees

January 1994: First demonstration outside Campsfield, held once a month every year thereafter

March 1994: Campsfield roof is occupied by demonstrators in solidarity with the hunger strike

June 1994: camp outside Campsfield in solidarity

July 2005: Hundreds of demonstrators gather to protest outside Dungavel during the G8 Summit in Gleneagles. All detainees are reportedly transferred elsewhere in advance of the demo

September 2005: Solidarity demo outside Yarl’s Wood following the death of a detainee

April 2006: 300+ demonstrate outside Harmondsworth & Colnbrook in solidarity with hunger striking detainees. The same day, people in London paint slogans on the facade of Ethiopian Airlines for their role in deportations

April 2006: No Borders solidarity demo at the Home Office in support of the Colnbrook hunger strikers amongst other solidarity actions

December 2006: 70+ people join a No Borders demonstration outside the HQ of Kalyx, the company that runs Harmondsworth, in solidarity with the rioters

December 2006: Demonstration outside Harmondsworth in support of the rioters

December 2006: No Borders demonstration at the HQ of Kalyx, who run Harmondsworth

February 2007: Demonstration outside Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

February 2007: Occupation of the head offices of GEO, Campsfield’s private operator

April 2007: Over 100 demonstrate in Crawley town centre against the new detention centre planned for Gatwick (Brook House)

November 2007: GEO, company managing Campsfield detention centre, has head offices shut down for a day

September 2007: Demonstration from Crawley town centre to Tinsley House during the UK No Borders camp

January 2008: Solidarity demonstration outside Southwark Crown Court in support of the Harmondsworth 4, four accused in connection with the unrest in Harmondsworth

February 2008: Demonstration outside in support of the Harmondsworth 4 outside Sodexho HQ, the detention centre’s operator

February 2008: Noise demo at GEO’s head offices, for company’s management of Campsfield

March 2008: Picket of Carillon’s offices in Manchester for their role in expanding Manchester Detention Centre, later to become Pennine House

March 2009: 200 demonstrate outside Yarl’s Wood

March 2009: Blockade of Tinsley House to stop mass deportation to Iraq

March 2009: Around 100 people in Manchester protest at Manchester Airport against Pennine House, a ‘temporary holding centre’ located there

March 2009: 20 people ‘detain’ immigration minister Phil Woolas, at his constituency office

March 2009: Edinburgh demonstration outside the offices of G4S, who run Dungavel, Brook House, Tinsley House and Oakington, as well as the transport system of detainees

May 2009: Blockade of Colnbrook detention centre to stop charter flight to Iraq

June 2009: Demonstration in solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers at the offices of Serco, the company which operates the detention centre

October 2009: Demonstration outside the Home Office in support of Iraqi hunger strikers

January 2010: No Borders demonstration outside Crawley Council planning meeting during discussions on whether to turn a 4 star hotel into a detention centre. This follows a series of previous protests and occupations. The proposal is defeated.

February 2010: Demos in solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers outside the detention centre and Serco’s offices

March 2010: Solidarity demo outside Harmondsworth in support of hunger strikers

March 2010: No Borders Wales demonstrate in Swansea in support of the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers

March 2010: Demo outside Holloway prison in support of the three women imprisoned there for their hunger strike

April 2010: Cambridge Migrant Solidarity stage a demo outside Oakington in support of hunger striking detainees

June 2010: Sabotage of UK Border Agency snatch vans which transport people to detention centres, in solidarity with the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers and rioters in Harmondsworth

August 2010: Solidarity demo outside Campsfield in support of the hunger strikers

December 2010: Demo outside Holloway prison in support of three Yarl’s Wood detainees incarcerated for their role in the hunger strike

January 2011: Solidarity demo outside Hatton Cross Immigration & Asylum Tribunal during bail hearing of Denise McNeil, who was imprisoned for her role in the Yarl’s Wood hunger strike

March 2011: Solidarity demo at Yarl’s Wood on International Women’s Day

April 2011: Demonstration and leafleting outside a Barnardos shop for their involvement in Cedars, a detention centre planned for families

April 2011: Disruption of Barnardos fundraising event at the Museum of Childhood its involvement in Cedars

May 2011: Phone blockade of GCC, the company behind a new phone system designed to keep detainees at Tinsley House under closer surveillance

June 2011: Demonstration at Moreton Hall on the day of its opening

June 2011: Demonstration at Campsfield in solidarity with Iraqi & Afghan detainees on hunger strike

June 2011: Harmondsworth & Colnbrook detention centres blockaded to stop charter flight to Iraq, flight cancelled

June 2011: Demonstration outside the HQ of Barnardos, for their involvement in Cedars, a new detention centre for families

July 2011: Demonstration in Hayward’s Heath against Cedars

August 2011: SOAS Detainee Support & No Borders demonstration outside the HQ of Barnardos, for their involvement in Cedars family detention centre

August 2011: Solidarity demonstration outside Colnbrook following the apparent suicide of two detainees

September 2011: No Borders & No One Is Illegal hold noise demo outside Cedars

December 2011: Nigerian High Commissioner confronted and questioned over charter flight the same day

December 2011: blockade of entrances to Harmondsworth & Colnbrook to try & stop mass Tamil deportation

December 2011: New Year’s eve solidarity demos with sound systems outside Brook House & Tinsley House

Remembering the dead. Deaths in detention 1989-2014.

See the list here compiled by the Institute for Race Relations