Yarls Wood 10


Detainees inside who could get to the windows welcomed the protest

Nothing expresses the racist and and oppressive state of our country more obviously than our immigration detention centres and the whole state apparatus for harassing asylum seekers and refugees. People fleeing violence and persecution, often rape and attacks flee to the UK and are greeting with a Home Office wall of disbelief. While in our legal system you are innocent until proved guilty, for migrants the system works in reverse; the Home Office assumes that they are liars and cheats unless they can produce evidence to prove their claims – and evidence is often impossible to provide.


Detainees in Yarl’s wood are subjected to rape, sexual abus and mental torture

Routinely gay asylum seekers are told they are not gay – and sent back to countries where they will face danger and violence because they are gay, Some have to go into hiding, others commit suicide rather than return or after they arrive home.

Others who came here when young or even may have been born here are told they have no right to be in this country – and are sent to countries they may never have been in and where they have no families or friends, removing them and splitting up families living in the uk.

Increasingly under Theresa May and now Amber Rudd as Home Secretary it has become simply a numbers game, trying in any way possible to cut down the number of migrants without regard to personal circumstances or hardship, using mass deportation charter flights to send people to Nigeria and elsewhere, including many whose asylum claims are still being processed.


People climb up to show placards and balloons and speak to the detainees

Our immigration prisons are now officially called ‘removal centres’, although many who are held in them will have a legitimate right to remain here. The name change reflects the aim to remove them – whether or not they will be able to prove a right to remain, as many still do.


Refugees to the UK are refused their rights in centres such as Yarl’s Wood

The protest on December 3rd was the 10th at this remote centre in Bedfordshire organised by Movement for Justice, and I think the ninth I’ve attended to photograph. It’s a journey of several hours, made easier on the protest days by a coach provided by MfJ from Bedford Station. Most of those held are effectively cut off from their friends and fellow migrants by the length of the journey and its cost – as most migrants live in urban centres and are poor if not destitute. MfJ also organise coaches from London, Birmingham and further afield for the protests and make it possible for refugees and others short of funds to make the journey. Otherwise it means an expensive train journey to Bedford followed by an over five mile taxi ride from the station.

I don’t cover events like this for the money – and seldom make enough to cover my costs from them – but because I think it important to record what is happening in our society and to make people aware of the issues and I want to do what I can to make that happen. I think the same is true for many of the other photographers there taking pictures.


Movement for Justice has led the fight to end immigration detention

Many of those who spoke – and could be heard by those inside the prison – were people who had spent time inside Yarl’s Wood or other detention centres. And a few inside were able to speak from inside using mobile phones – one of the few privileges detainees have over those in our normal prisons. These are prisons in all but name, but with the difference that none of those held knows what will happen to them. Some have been held for weeks, others for years, and many find themselves being taken from them and put on a flight home. Now these are mainly special chartered flights after passengers on regular flights objected to the forcible restraint of detainees on them, at times refusing to let the flights take off, clearly recognising the inhumanity involved.

These detention centres are also a threat hanging over refugees and asylum seekers living in our communities, who have to attend regularly to reporting centres. Every time they go it for these routine appointments they know they may be leaving in transport direct to Yarl’s Wood or another removal centre – sometimes returning from where they have previously been released. Inside these centres, run by private firms such as Serco, they are routinely refused their rights, bullied and poorly treated. Some have died because they have been refused medical treatment, others have been sexually abused.

These centres are a national disgrace, and a quite unnecessary punishment for those who have committed no crime and pose no threat to our society. They make it harder for the claims of those inside to be furthered and justice to be obtained. Any humane government would close them down and offer real help and support to asylum seekers in their place.

I took a great many pictures of the protest, and you can see a selection of them on My London Diary, as well as read a short account of the day in Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 10.


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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