Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cambridge Detainees go on hunger strike

Inmates at the notorious Oakington Immigration Centre just outside of Cambridge (as seen on TV) are staging a hunger strike against their treatment. CEN

More than one hundred and fifty of those detained have gone on hunger strike concerned at the way they have been locked up and left in limbo. The facilities for visits and the food are utterly disgraceful and people, who have committed no crime are being treated appallingly.

Allow me to quote from Oakington Concern for a moment;

Facilities for Visitors: Although there has been a large increase in the number of detainees at Oakington, from 250 to c.350, there has been only a minimal increase in the already inadequate facilities for visitors. There are 8 tables with 4 chairs fixed to each in the visits room, making private conversation impossible, and creating difficulties for anyone hard of hearing. The long process of going through security checks, being taken to the visits room, and for the detainee to be found and brought there can take an hour, which curtails the time available for the visit. Pressure on space means a long wait (sometimes up to a week) by which time the detainee may have left the centre. It also means time and appointments are rationed, causing problems for family and friends coming from a distance as well as for our local visitors. It should be a matter of urgency for these facilities to be increased.

And then we come to the real reason why the food is so abysmal;

The amount spent per head per day was reduced in December from £3.00 to £2.00 though food prices are rising fast, as we are all finding out.

In spite of complaints about the decline in the quality and quantity of the meals served, there have been only small improvements. Fresh fruit is now available at lunch and a bowl of salad is available without it having to be specially asked for. We wonder how these items could ever have been removed from the menu.

Dry bread. We pointed out in a letter dated 14 January 2008 to Mr Brian Pollett, Manager of Detention Services, that we understood that those who were still hungry at the end of the meal could fill up on the pile of bread, unbuttered, which was provided. We have now received a letter from Mr Philip Schoenenberger of the Detention Services who is based at Oakington saying that “this has also changed and detainees get portions of spread with the bread.” But how can anyone ever have thought it acceptable to provide dry bread for people to fill up on?

Spread was apparently provided only when outsiders got to know of it and complained. And surely people should not have to supplement inadequate meals with bread even if spread is now provided?

Not only is the choice available at lunch much reduced, but the menu is unsatisfactory for another reason. It has been described as offering a version of (bland) low-budget mass-catering suitable for a British clientele. Potato chips are not part of most detainees’ diets, but are often provided; rice and lentils, which many nationalities detained at Oakington would enjoy, are seldom on the menu. If a reduction in the quantity and quality of meals such as has happened at Oakington had been made in a prison, there would have been a riot. Why should detainees be treated worse than prisoners?

The fact is right now these people are illegal not because of what they have done but because of where they come from. Their nationality - and we treat them like scum. It seems to me that we should try to do what we can to support them in their protest to be treated like human beings.

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