Anti-detention campaigners are currently holding a protest inside the Arora International Hotel near Heathrow airport against what they described as the hotel company's "cynical, profit-driven opportunism." Armed with a banner and leaflets, they are demanding that Arora drops its plans to turn one of its hotels into an immigration prison.
Driven by what appears to be a decline in business, Arora Management Services Ltd has applied to the Crawley Borough Council for permission to turn its four-star hotel at Gatwick airport, Mercure, into an immigration detention centre. If the planning permission is granted, the hotel will be converted into a secure, prison and the 245 bedrooms into single and family cells.
Like other private companies that run privatised detention centres across the country, Arora is trying to sell its plan by arguing that locating detention centres at airports would make deportations easier and less costly for the government.
The Crawley Borough Council's Local Plan 2000 states that planning permission "will not be granted for development within the airport boundary which is not clearly required in this location for [the airports] operational, functional, safety or security reasons."
Gatwick airport already has two detention centres: Tinsley House, which can hold 125 male and female detainees, and the newly opened Brook House, which can hold 426. Both are run by private security company G4S.
Eight out of the UK's 11 immigration detention centres are run by private companies. Four are located inside or near airports.
Campaigners argue that locating detention centres inside airports also serves to keep detention and deportations out of the public gaze as airports are subject to special bylaws and accessing them, for example by visitors and campaigners, is much harder.
One of the protesters, who preferred to keep anonymous, said: "This is just another example of cynical, profit-driven opportunism of big companies wanting a slice of the lucrative detention market. Thousands of innocent migrants are locked up in immigration prisons across the country or prolonged periods of time pending their forcible deportation. With no right to automatic bail and no access to adequate legal representation, they are treated like criminals when their only 'crime' is seeking safety or a better life. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to argue that it is profit-driven companies like Arora and G4S that drive such draconian policies."
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Background newspaper stories: 1, 2, 3.