On Friday, Mary joined hundreds of protestors on Palace Green in Durham to show united opposition to Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre in the neighbouring North West Durham constituency.
The IRC was officially opened by the Home Office earlier this year and has attracted widespread criticism for its detaining of women, many of whom may have been left in a vulnerable position forced to flee their country.
The event was organised by several groups including Durham Peoples Assembly, No2Hassockfield, Abolish Detention, and Women 4 Refugee Women. Mary was joined on the platform by Moses Chikwekwete Mbano, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe and Agnes Tanoh, a spokesperson for W4RW.
Mary addressed the crowd on a sunny afternoon with the magnificent Durham Cathedral providing the backdrop.
The Cathedral is noted for its large ‘Sanctuary knocker’, which was used by those seeking sanctuary to indicate to people in the Cathedral that they were in need of help. Durham also has ‘City of Sanctuary’ status.
In her speech Mary said
Asylum seekers are people who cannot return to their homes for fear of violence or persecution. They’ve been the victims or targets of war, sexual violence, torture, political persecution, and countless other horrific crimes. They aren’t numbers on a screen or a headline to sell newspapers- and we shouldn’t treat them as such. They are real people who are in desperate need of support and protection- and we should treat them how we’d want to be treated if we were in their situation.
She went on to say
… for 80 vulnerable asylum-seeking women at a time, Derwentside IRC is a prison. For many, it’s a place that will re-open their trauma, and for all, it’s a place of anxiety as they await potential deportation back to the place they fought so hard to escape from.
And what saddens me the most is that the women detained there will have come to Britain expecting that we, a wealthy country with laws and human rights protections, would treat them fairly and value their lives. Instead, they face a government determined to whip up hatred towards refugees, and one that punishes requests for sanctuary with imprisonment and deportation.
Mary has committed to campaigning against the IRC and has tabled several questions pertaining to the site in her years as MP for the City of Durham.
Speaking after the event Mary said
It is shameful that the Government continue their policy of the hostile environment by opening an IRC in County Durham. Let it be known that when Priti Patel brought her hostility to the doorsteps of the people of Durham, we came out and said “no”.
We know that detention re-traumatises vulnerable women. There must be more compassion in the way in which we deal with those fleeing to our country and seeking sanctuary. The people of the UK have shown this in their response to the crisis in Ukraine.