Yarls Wood 12

It was a difficult trip to Yarl’s Wood for me this time. There was a bad atmosphere in the run up to the protest, with one of the more active protesters from the organising group leaving, making some unpleasant allegations about her treatment by the group, but also taking control and locking them out of the Facebook group that was organising the protest.

I felt great sympathy for her, though I knew as I read her account that some of the allegations she was making about the group were not entirely justified. Movement for Justice have never made any secret of their political affiliation and their history which apparently she had been unaware of (though it is clear on Wikipedia and on the group’s outdated web site.) I felt rather like the friend of both partners engaged in a messy divorce, with both partners seeming to me to have behaved badly.

My personal sympathies went out to the wronged individual, but I also knew of the long record of support of detainees by MfJ, who have kept the whole issue of immigration detention alive when most of the left have ignored it, and of the many former detainees who have come to protest after protest with MfJ and spoken of their gratitude for their support.

The dispute, coming just a few weeks before the protest was a blow to MfJ and considerably cut down the attendance at this protest – contributing to a large financial loss for them – I think around £4000. Perhaps in the longer term it will result in more groups becoming involved in organising protests against Yarls Wood and other detention centres rather than leaving it to MfJ, which would certainly be a positive outcome.

I’ve come in for some rather unpleasant comments for continuing to photograph MfJ’s events and their participation in other events. But this doesn’t mean I’m a supporter of the MfJ, just that I, like them, think that our immigration detention system is a shameful system that should be closed down. And I admire the effort that they have put into pursuing that end, and supporting asylum seekers both inside the detention centres and in the community.

Mabel Gawanas who was held in Yarls Wood for a couple of days under 3 years

Practically too, the dispute caused one small problem, with MfJ being unable to fund a shuttle bus from Bedford Station. It’s never been financially viable, with donations of a fiver from those who can afford it for the return journey probably usually meeting well under half the actual cost, probably around £4-500. It’s about six miles there and the same back, and while there are taxis at Bedford Station it can be difficult to get one when you want one, and harder still to get one for the return journey. Fortunately I could take my Brompton, and it’s a fairly easy ride, though a little uphill.

You can read more about the protest, which followed a similar pattern to the eleven previous protests MfJ have organised there at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 12.  Though smaller it seemed a little better organised than on previous occasions, and as usual there were a procession of speakers who were almost all people who had themselves been detained in this or other detention centres, as well as voices from inside relayed by mobile phone.

Apparently the staff running the detention centre make considerable efforts to prevent the people imprisoned there from coming to the windows and taking part in the protest. This time they had organised a fashion show for the women well away from the side of the building we were facing. But many of the windows were still full of people, shouting their thanks to the protesters and calling for help, with some managing to wave through the small slits the windows can be opened.


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