Around 12 activists from Global Justice Bexhill and Hastings demonstrated in protest last Friday 23rd November outside the Castleham offices of General Dynamics UK over the role of its parent company in the detention of refugee children in the United States. They held banners there for about 45 minutes. A letter has been delivered to the CEO/Managing Director requesting a meeting to discuss their concerns.

Following global uproar this summer, the Trump administration reversed a child separation policy and undertook efforts at family reunification. However, there are hundreds of children who have still not been reunited with their families, according to the group, and in some cases may never be.

It is not just separation. Under the Trump presidency, the number of children held in detention in the US has risen from 2,400 in 2017 to over 12,000 at present. The administration is also pushing to dramatically increase the amount of time undocumented families can be detained, as well as to speed up the deportation process.

Global Justice say that the protest is part of a wave of activities targeting the companies which profit from migrant detention in the US.  They are calling for pension funds to disinvest.

Christina Lucey of Global Justice Bexhill and Hastings said: “We are here today to show support for everyone on the receiving end of Donald Trump’s callous attitude to refugees and migrants, including the hundreds of children and their families who have still not been reunited despite the global outrage earlier this year. It is disturbing to have a part of that detention system on our doorstep. We are calling on General Dynamics to stop profiting from detention. It’s as simple as that.”

General Dynamics: The Arms Trade In Hastings

War and armaments seem to come naturally to Hastings    and not just in connection with the famous battle. From Roman times, if not before, East Sussex was a profuse source of iron, the chief ingredient in weapon-making. Later the area became associated with the manufacture of gunpowder, as testified by the many references to powdermills in local geography. Did this history attract the US arms supply firm General Dynamics to start up a manufacturing business here? That’s not the story they  put out.

A company Computing Devices, which was already aiming to “provide capability to armed forces around the world”, opened its first offices in Hastings in 1974, manufacturing electronic assemblies that provided work at that stage for around 40 employees. The location was chosen, according to the current media department of General Dynamics, which acquired the original company in 1997, “as it offered better value than sites in London, and had a good supply of highly-skilled people in the local vicinity”.

General Dynamics UK now employs more than 270 people at their Castleham site, over 90% of them full-time. It started an apprenticeship scheme in 2014, which currently trains eight employees. A recruitment campaign will be launched for the 2019 scheme in the new year. In the meantime it is “actively recruiting” new employees to join the team with a number of vacancies for software engineers currently advertised, and are also recruiting for its 2019 graduate scheme, commencing next September.

The company denies that there is any connection between its operations in the UK and those of the US firm General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) other than shared corporate ownership. However the media department also insists that GDIT has no role in the family separation policy playing out on the Mexican border, nor in the construction or operation of Homeland Security detention facilities there. On the contrary it claims to “support best possible care for unaccompanied minors” through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to “help ensure social needs of children are met”, and “facilitate family reunifications.”

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