Diane Abbott’s proposal to close Yarl’s Wood and Brook House and end outsourcing in immigration detention provision is a welcome step forward in Labour Party policy. The announcement comes following a mass protest in Yarl’s Wood and a Panorama documentary that included undercover footage of appalling conditions in detention and abuse inflicted on detainees.
Although Yarl’s Wood and Brook House have become lightning-rods for immigration detention controversy, they differ little from other detention centres. 43 people have died in immigration detention since it started, including 4 people in Morton Hall (Lincolnshire) in 2017 alone. Colnbrook near Heathrow has one of the harshest regimes within the detention estate where people are locked in cells from 9pm to 8am. Harmondsworth, also near Heathrow, is the biggest detention centre in Europe and was the site of mass protests in 2014 and 2015, and there have been similar protests in Campsfield and Dungavel.
The problem cannot be associated with individual places of detention. It lies with a policy that gives the Home Office licence to lock people up based on their nationality, and a society that turns a blind eye to the inevitable violence dealt out on working class people of colour in any system designed for mass deportation.
Closing down Yarl’s Wood and Brook House would be an important step but it must be done within a wider policy that takes detention out of the immigration system altogether.