Yarl’s Wood is a small area of woodland close to the immigration prison at the back of Twinwoods Business Park which tooks its name. RAF Twinwood Farm opened in 1941 with aircraft taking off from a grass field, bu soon had three concrete runways, and was largely a base for RAF and later USAF night fighters when in 1944 it was taken over by the US Eighth Air Force to run in conjunction with RAF Thurleigh a mile or two to the north from which their Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses were taking off to bomb France, Belgium and Germany.
After the war it, together with Thurleigh became the highly secretive Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE Bedford) site, with Twinwoods housing giant wind tunnels. It was probably this use that stopped plans to make the area into a replacement for London Heathrow; in many ways its an ideal site, fairly empty countryside fairly close to the main London-Sheffield rail line and easily linked to both M1 and M11. After the site was decommisioned in the 1990s it became Twinwoods Business Park, with the vertical wind-tunnel now offering indoor skydiving and some of the buildings housing an occasionally open Glen Miller museum. Red Bull Racing also have a building there.
Twinwood’s major claim to fame is that it was from here that Glen Miller and his orchestra took off on its final flight in December 1944 (hence the museum).
Its major claim to infamy is the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre, built at its southeast corner (there is a rather good view of it on Flikr from the top of the vertical wind tunnel – the protests take place in the field immediately to the left of the buildings, and Yarls Wood is the wooded area to the right.)
An official inspection in April 2015 concluded that Yarl’s Wood was “rightly a place of national concern” and this January the Shaw report exposed the extreme vulnerability of many of those detained including victims of sexual assault and gendered violence, pregnant women, victims of torture, the elderly, disabled and those with mental health difficulties. Again in 2015 Channel 4 news showed a series of undercover reports exposing the levels of abuse and racism in Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth detention centres.
It is totally shameful how this country treats asylum seekers, many who come here traumatised after threats, beatings and rape in their own countries to find a system that doesn’t believe their stories, locks them up for indefinite periods and threatens to return them to the hell they escaped.In 2015 the Parliamentary Inquiry into Immigration Detention report called for a 28-day time limit and judicial oversight of the use of immigration detention; one woman has now been held they for well over two years and many are held for six months or more.
We should have a fair and humane system for receiving and resettling refugees, not a process that is driven by the anti-immigrant ravings of a right-wing press to which both Tory and Lbaour have long kowtowed, outdoing each other in their attempts to appear tough on immigration.
I’ve written on My London Diary about some of the things that happened on the day, and many times about the iniquities of our immigration detention system. This cerrtainly wasn’t the first time I’ve been there and unfortunately as it remains open it won’t be the last. I’ll be there again with Movement for Justice this Saturday. And will keep going back with them until it is closed down.