Priti Patel’s betrayal of women seeking asylum

11 March 2021

Priti Patel’s Home Office is breaking its pledge to reduce the number of female asylum seekers held in detention centres. 

A former immigration minister had vowed to reform the system and said in 2019 that they would reduce the numbers in detention and “support vulnerable women outside detention”. 

It has now been revealed the Home Office is opening a new detention facility in autumn, winding down a pilot scheme focussed on allowing vulnerable women to live in the community rather than suffering incarceration and cancelling two other similar schemes.

Alphonsine Kabagabo, director of the charity Women for Refugee Women, called the creation of a new detention centre near Consett, County Durham a “betrayal of previous commitments made by ministers”.

Kabagabo added, “Most of the women we have worked with who have been in immigration detention are survivors of sexual violence and torture. Locking them up has a devastating effect on their mental health.”

Due to both campaigning efforts and the pandemic, the number of women refugees and asylum seekers held in detention in the UK has fallen to historically low levels. At the end of September 2020, 27 such women were held in detention, down from 121 in December 2019. 

By opening a new detention centre with space for 80 women, the Home Office is signalling its intention to ramp up its use of incarceration as a means to control female refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants facing deportation. 

Numerous studies have found that a majority of women asylum seekers have survived rape and gender-based violence in their countries of origin. The effect of detention on those already traumatised is devastating. One in five report having tried to kill themselves in detention and 40% report having self-harmed. 

Detention centres are also used by the Home Office to detain migrants who have served prison sentences and are facing deportation as a second, permanent punishment. This  practice serves to bolster the government’s “law and order” credentials and increase their persecution of a section of the population against which they and the media have spent years whipping up public hysteria. 

Xenophobes argue that migrants come to Britain because it is a wealthy country, but Britain’s wealth comes from stealing the resources of other countries and exploiting their economies. The finance capital and profits of Britain’s capitalist class moves freely across borders, but they deny the right of people to move freely to make a better life or escape a bad one. 

That a country so thoroughly implicated in the wars, poverty and oppression that force people across the world to flee their homes would deny asylum or refuge to anyone is outrageous. 

It is the responsibility of socialists in Britain to oppose the country’s draconian immigration laws, detention centres and deportation and resist nationalist and racist ideologies that seek to divide the working class.

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