Posts Tagged ‘20ft fence’

Shut down Yarl’s Wood Immigration Prison – 2017

Monday, May 13th, 2024

Shut down Yarl’s Wood Immigration Prison: Saturday 13th May 2017 was the 11th protest outside Yarl’s Wood in the Movement for Justice campaign to shut down this and other immigration detention centres.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

For once the weather was fine and there was little or no mud in the field facing the prison. And for some reason – perhaps the windows had been cleaned – we could see the detainees more clearly than on some previous occasions. And I seem to have written rather more clearly than on some occasions about the day – so here I’ll just reproduce the text from My London Diary, with a few of the pictures.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

I’d caught the train from St Pancras to Bedford as usual, but instead of waiting for the MfJ bus had brought my Brompton, so could just jump on it and cycle towards Yarlswood. It was a ride of around 6 miles, mainly along side roads or on cycle paths beside busier roads, and it was a pleasant enough ride, though Yarl’s Wood is on a former airfield on a plateau rather higher than the city, and so it was uphill quite a lot of the way. And the climb up from the nearest village, Milton Ernest, was rather long and steep, though at least I didn’t have to bother about traffic, as the police had closed the road. But I was a little out of breath and tired as I arrived.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

But Yarl’s Wood really is in the middle of nowhere, making those inside feel very isolated, and visits to them by anyone without a car are tedious and expensive for those on low income. So events like this are important in reminding those inside that they have not been forgotten.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

There were several hundreds of people already at the roadside – and a long row of coaches that had brought them there, and there were speeches and chanting while they waited for others to arrive.

Most of the detainees are women, but there are men in a family section of the prison

From the road there is still a long walk along field edges following a public footpath, around three-quarters of a mile. Parts of this were heavy going on the Brompton, not designed for off-road use, and I did have to walk part of the way, as well as occasionally stopping to photograph the marchers, now around a thousand strong.

When the protesters arrived at the field in front of the tall fence around the centre, they were welcomed by shouts and waving from those imprisoned inside who held up messages calling for justice in the narrow slits the windows open. Only those who could get to the upper windows on the block facing the fence could see the protest, but others inside could certainly hear it.

There were speeches from former detainees, including several women who had been held at Yarl’s Wood, including Mabel Gawanas who was recently released a few days short of 3 years inside, and other former immigration detainees. People kicked on the fence to make a terrific racket and held up banners, posters and placards to show the detainees in what the protesters describe as as ‘racist, sexist hell-hole’ they have not been forgotten. Some inside spoke to the protest by mobile phone.

Some of the protesters climbed ladders to hold banners and placards above the first solid 10 feet of the 20 foot fence, while others had long poles or lit flares to make the protest more visible. A few yards back from the fence where the ground slopes up we could see those at the windows and photograph them through the mesh fence, though it wasn’t easy.

I left as the protest began to draw to a close, cycling back along the footpath to the road and then enjoying the long downhill stretch to the village and the main road. But I had to pay for this, as a short uphill modern stretch of road off stretched me almost to exhaustion. 40 metres doesn’t sound a lot, but feels in on a bike. And while the road up from Milton Ernest does the climb at a fairly sensible rate, Oakley Hill up from the A6 is at least twice as steep. I should have got off and walked, but pride doesn’t allow it unless it becomes really impossible. For some reason my three-speed gear had decided to be a two speed gear, but probably it wouldn’t have helped here as I think it was only the top gear I was missing – and I needed something considerably lower. But after than it was downhill most of the way to Bedford and a train probably an hour earlier than had I been on the bus.

More pictures at Shut down Yarl’s Wood Prison,


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Shut Down Yarl’s Wood – 2016

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood – Saturday 12th March 2016 saw one of the largest protests outside the Immigration Detention Centre at Yarl’s Wood with well over a thousand people from around the country waving and shouting support to the women asylum seekers held indefinitely inside, who responded enthusiastically by shouting and waving back from the prison blocks behind the high fence, hindered by windows that hardly open. There were many among the protesters who had themselves been locked up in Yarls Wood or other detention centres.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

My day began badly, with a cancelled train and then a coach driver for the five or six mile journey from Bedford Station to the isolated prison who got lost and took us for a 20 mile mystery tour through rural Bedfordshire, meaning we arrived rather late for the protest.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

We arrived just in time for the final few minutes of the rally by Movement for Justice, the organisers of the protest, outside the locked gates of the Twinwoods Business Centre. An shortly after the protesters set off for the long march down the road and along a public footpath to a field on a slight rise adjoining the prison where the main protest was to take place.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

It was dry and sunny, but there had been a week of rain and the fields we walked past were full of puddles and the rise in front of the 20 foot prison fence was extremely treacherous and hard to climb. Alongside the metal fence was a concrete path but then a few feet of churned up mud before the slippery slope.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

At the bottom the lower 10ft of the fence is solid metal sheeting, so there you have no view of the prison. but can make a considerable noise by banging or kicking the fence. On top of the slope you can see the upper floors of the closest prison block, and from there we could make out those prisoners who had managed to get to the windows and were shouting greetings and some holding out notices though the small gap – just large enough for a hand to go through – that the windows open.

Unfortunately the windows reflect the sky and in the bright weather we could only see dimly those inside. Further along the rise we could see a little of the ground floor of the detention centre, and here the views were a little clearer. This part of the immigration prison was then being used for families, while the rest ws a women’s prison.

The regime in immigration detention differs from that in our other prisons and in one respect is worse. Those inside are held indefinitely and have no way of knowing when they might be released. And their detention can be very lengthy with one woman held there for three years less a couple of days. Many have seen this as totally unacceptable and called for a maximum length of detention of 28 days as is the case in some other countries.

But the detainees alhtough kept as prisoners are allowed to have mobile phones which they need to communicate with solicitors and others dealing with their immigration cases. And the protesters were able to phone some of the women inside and the calls could be linked to the public address system brought to the protest so they could tell something of their stories.

Those held in immigration detention are not criminals and few have or would commit any criminal offences. Many indeed have been victims of criminal attacks, violence and rape, or face these if they are deported back to their home countries. They all want to be allowed to live and work here, to contribute their skills to our country and pay our taxes. There is no need to keep them locked away. But we have a racist immigration regime that treats them as criminals and liars and shows little evidence of any humanity – but much of indifference, incompetence and unnecessary delays.

The goverment outsources their detention to private companies and various investigations and reports have shown the lack of care, mistreatment and even sexual harassment and violence in this and other centres. Rather than shutting them down and moving to a more humane system the government have now moved those who might otherwise been in Yarl’s Wood to a far more remote location to make protests harder to organise.

The pictures and text, including some captions, on My London Diary tell more about what what happened at the protest: Shut Down Yarl’s Wood.


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Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 14

Friday, July 21st, 2023

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 14: This protest on Saturday 21st July 2018 was the 14th organised by Movement for Justice outside the immigration prison at Yarl’s Wood and I think their last there. I missed the first so this was my 13th visit to this remote location, cyling uphill the five or six miles north from Bedford station. I had previously photographed a number of protests organised by MfJ outside the two immigration prisons (officially called detention centres to make it sound nicer) on the north of Heathrow airport, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, a rather easier journey.

Unlike these two prisons which housed men, Yarl’s Wood was mainly used to hold women, though there were also a few families there. The protests there had attracted more campaigners because of this, with women being seen more widely as victims than male asylum seekers. And many of those who were locked up inside were women who had been raped as well as beaten and otherwise subjected to traumatic events before fleeing their countries.

Many of the women – as too the men elsewhere – were kept locked up for many months and some for years in indefinite detention while the Home Office refused to believe their stories or to properly investigate their cases, often demanding paperwork it would be impossible for them to provide. The remoteness of the centre and only limited access to internet and telephones makes it difficult for the women to progress their cases.

Many of these are people with desperate needs for counselling and help, but instead as various investigations, official as well as undercover journalism – had shown are held under appalling conditions in this and other centres run by private companies such as SERCO, with detainees refused their human and civil rights, assaulted, sexually harassed and assaulted, denied proper medical treatment, poorly fed and forced to work for £1 an hour on menial tasks.

The protests here are greeted by the women, giving them the assurance that they have not been forgotten and that there are those outside who support them. Those able to get to the windows facing the hill on which the protesters stood so they could be seen over the tall prison fence – the lower 10ft solid steel and above that another ten foot of dense metal mesh – shouted greetings, waved and held up messages.

A powerful public address system meant those inside could hear the speeches, some by former inmates of Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres, and some by those inside, relayed by mobile phone to the amplifier, as well as by some leading MfJ members.

Most of those inside will eventually be released, the majority getting leave to stay in this country. Some are taken to be deported with the MfJ and other organisations then working desperately and often successfully to stop their deportation flights back to terror and violence in their home countries.

This was by far the smallest of all the protests at Yarl’s Wood organised by the MfJ, following complaints made against the organisation by a former member who appears to have been treated badly by them. But however justified her personal complaint, her comments revealed little or nothing about the nature of the group which was not already on Wikipedia or otherwise common knowledge. But the dispute led to many other groups ending their support for protests organised by the MfJ, some organising their own protests but with very limited success.

Mabel had been held in Yarl’s Wood for a day or two less than 3 years

Other groups were and are working – as MfJ still is – to support detainees. The MfJ has played a major role in protests against our racist immigration detention system and in actions to prevent deportations. It still seems to be supported by many former detainees who have always played a leading role in the protests both at Yarl’s Wood and at Harmondsworth.

The Home Office finally decided it was too easy for protests to be organised outside Yarl’s Wood and moved the women – many of whom were released at the start of the Covid epidemic – up to an even more remote location in the north-east, with Yarl’s Wood being used to house those who had crossed the Channel in small boats.

The Illegal Immigration Act finally passed a few days ago intends to deport almost all migrants and asylum seekers (other than those coming under special schemes for Ukraine, Hong Kong etc) to Rwanda without any consideration of their asylum claims. Efforts to persuade the government to set up safe routes for those claiming asylum were rejected by the government in the latest ratcheting up of its racist policies, justified by them through the doublespeak of “compassion” while showing not the faintest scintilla of any real compassion.

More on My London Diary at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 14.


Shut down Yarl’s Wood Immigration Prison – 2017

Saturday, May 13th, 2023

On Saturday 13th May 2017 I put my Brompton folding bike on the train and made my way to Bedford Station via St Pancras. I was on my way the the 11th protest outside the immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood in the campaign led by Movement for Justice to shut down this and other immigration prisons.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

This was the first time I’d taken a bike to get to Yarl’s Wood, although I’d been to most of the previous protests they had organised there. Before I’d ridden from the station on a coach organised by the event organisers which hadn’t always been ideal, meaning I sometimes arrived late – especially once when the driver got lost – and had to leave when the coach was leaving, sometimes before the end of the protest and sometimes when I would have liked to leave earlier. On the bike I was free to arrive when I wanted and leave when I liked.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

Yarl’s Wood is sited in an area remote for the southern parts of England, on the site of a former wartime airfield, probably chosen as somewhere people could be locked away out of sight and out of mind, on the hills around 5 miles north of Bedford. Motorists would take the A6 to Milton Ernest, the closest village, and then a mile or more uphill to the meeting point outside the Twinwoods Business Park. But I took a slightly more sensible cycle route, mainly along side roads or cycle paths, with just a short section beside the A6 into the village.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

Most of the route was uphill, climbing slowly towards the hills, then wasting the energy I’d expended in climbing with short downhill sections. But the final section from Milton Ernest was uphill all the way, long and steep, though I didn’t need to worry about traffic on it as the police had helpfully closed the road.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

My Brompton has a 3-speed hub gear and isn’t really good on hills, with the lowest of the three still being rather high when things get steep, but I managed to struggle up without having to get off and walk, though I was tired and seriously panting by the time I reached the top.

There I locked the bike to a fence and joined the thousand or so protesters who had travelled from around the country in a long line of coaches parked along the road. There were speeches and chanting for some time as we waited for others to arrive.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

The gates of the business centre were locked and protesters are prevented from taking the shortest route to the prison (there is also a more direct private road from the south closed to the public.) But a public footpath runs beside the 20ft fence around it. To reach it the campaigners first march a few hundred yards along the road, then turn down one footpath to reach a bridleway before going a few hundred yards along this to the path leading to the prison.

Its not a great distance, a little over three-quarters of a mile, but much of the way is on paths often muddy and full of puddles, and the Brompton is not happy off-road. I ended up pushing it much of the time, occasionally carrying it along with my camera bag, though some of the protesters did give me a hand so I could take some photographs.

Outside the prison the protesters marched into a field on the north side where a small hill rises to give a limited view over the solid lower half of the 20 foot metal prison fence. Their shouts and noise were greeted by those inside the centre who had managed to get to the windows on that side.

The prison windows have very limited opening, but enough for some of the women inside to get their arms through and wave, often holding items of clothing, or sheets of A4 paper with messages calling for freedom and for justice. Our view of them from the hill was only through the wire mesh of the upper 10 feet of the 20 foot fence which made taking pictures difficult.

From most places we could only see the two upper floors of the building, but at the very highest point the upper part of some ground floor windows was also visible. These rooms are used to house families being detained and although Yarl’s Wood was mainly used to detain women there were a few men here as well.

Most of the protesters stood up on the hill holding banners and placards but others were at the bottom, some banging or kicking the metal fence which resonates to make a terrific racket. Others wrote slogans on the fence, though these were only visible to us outside. People climbed up on ladders or other people’s shoulders or used long poles to hold banners, posters and placards in front of the upper mesh where the detainees could see them.

Movement for Justice had brought a public address system and there were speeches, mainly from former detainees, including several women who had been held at Yarl’s Wood. One who spoke was Mabel Gawanas who had been recently released a after a few days short of 3 years inside. A few detainees were also able to speak from inside over mobile phones, amplified by the PA system.

The protests at Yarl’s Wood have been important in gaining publicity for the terrible way in which the UK treats asylum seekers, particularly women who are locked up in this ‘racist, sexist hell-hole’ which has been exposed by various reports. They have an enormous morale-boosting affect on the prisoners who feel isolated and forgotten inside.

But the government’s response has been to re-purpose Yarl’s Wood as a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat in December 2021 and to set up a new immigration detention centre for women in an even more remote location in County Durham, where it is much harder for the women to organise and argue their cases. Almost certainly a part of this decision was to try to avoid further protests such as this one.

More recently the Home Office has started indefinitely detaining women at Yarl’s Wood again, although the numbers are much smaller. No official announcement was made of this reversion.

Much more at Shut down Yarl’s Wood Prison on My London Diary.


MfJ At Yarls Wood Again

Saturday, December 3rd, 2022

Saturday 3rd December 2016 saw the 10th protest organised by Movement for Justice at Yarl’s Wood, the immigration prison on an isolated wartime RAF base around five miles north of Bedford. Around 2000 protesters made there way there to call for the closure of Yarl’s Wood and all immigration detention centres.

MfJ At Yarls Wood Again

Because of heavy security inside the prison there were fewer women to greet them at the windows than on previous protests, but those who were able to make it greeted them enthusiastically, shouting and waving from the prison block behind the high fence, hindered by windows that open only a small crack.

MfJ At Yarls Wood Again

Several of those held inside were also able to speak to the protesters using their mobile phones, which detainees are allowed to have as they are essential in communicating with their lawyers. Conditions in immigration detention are different from those in our normal jails, but those held are still prisoners. And unlike most in normal jails, they are held in indefinite detention, never knowing when they will be released, with no limit on how long they can be held. One woman who spoke to us from inside had been held without any charge or trial for over two years.

MfJ At Yarls Wood Again

Those imprisoned at Yarls Wood are almost entirely women, with just a few family groups also being held there. The women who spoke, along with other former inmates who were taking part in the protest outside told grim and shameful stories of their detention. They told of assaults and abuse by Serco security guards who today had locked many in other wings to stop them seeing the protest and threatened those who greeted the protesters.

70% of Women in Detention are Survivors of Sexual Violence

One of the many complaints by those who are locked up in this and other immigration detention centres has been over the lack of proper access to medical treatment and it was worrying to hear from inside that there were now cases of TB in Yarl’s Wood. There have been some cases of death in detention when the staff have refused to take detainees health complaints seriously and have only called for medical assistance too late.

The complaints about abuse by security guards have been confirmed in reports in the mass media, including testimony and recordings made by an investigative reporter who worked as a security guard for several months there, revealing a horrific story of abuse.

Yarl’s Wood was temporarily closed down at the start of Covid with women being released or moved elsewhere. Most of the women who are held there are eventually released, most granted asylum or leave to remain. Some are simply released and disappear into the community and a few are actually deported.

It is a wasteful system in every way, particularly wasteful for the women who are confined there, often in great need of proper medical treatment and care for the trauma they escaped from with threats, beatings and rapes in their own country. But also wasteful for the taxpayer, both in paying the private companies that run these prisons and also in losing the positive contribution these women could be making if they were allowed freedom and able to work – and pay taxes rather than be a burden on them.

Yarl’s Wood is now being used to house some of those who have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel in small boats. A new asylum detention centre for women has been opened up in an even more isolated location, a former youth prison in County Durham, removing them even further from their legal advice and from protesters.

The protesters stood on a small rise in the field outside where they could see the upper two floors of the prison over the tall metal fence through the 10 feet of open metal grid above the 10 feet of solid metal panels. Photographing through the metal grid was possible but not easy. Some protesters went up to the fence and banged noisily on the panels, while others held posters on tall poles or climbed ladders against the fence so that those on the ground floor could see their banners, and there were also a number of flares let off to give large clouds of coloured smoke.

My MfJ organised coach back to Bedford Station was leaving shortly before the protest ended, and as I boarded it, half a mile away as the crow flies though nearer a mile along the public footpath and road, I could still clearly hear the noise of the protest. Those women locked away from the block facing the protesters will certainly have been able to hear it too. It had been a powerful protest but at the end I felt an intense sense of shame for the way this country treats asylum seekers and our clearly racist immigration system.

Much more at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 10 on My London Diary.


Flowers to Yarls Wood – 2017

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

Four years ago on Saturday 18th November saw Movement for Justice’s 12th protest outside the immigration detention prison up a hill around 6 miles north of Bedford, calling for this and the other immigration detention centres to be shut down. On this occasion many took flowers to pin to the upper section of the fence where they could be seen by the women inside.

The whole system of immigration detention seems to have been designed as a deterrent to asylum seekers coming to the UK, though unsuccesful in doing so. People who had fled their countries because they were in fear of their lives and had often been subject to violent attacks and rapes were thrown into jail while there cases were being considered. Often their imprisonment made it very much harder for them to provide the evidence demanded by the Home Office of the danger they had been in and their suffering, and official reports and journalistic investigations, some by reporters who had taken jobs at the centres, both revealed the callous and often illegal treatment they received from the staff in these privately run centres, including sexual assaults and violence.

Mabel Gawanas who was held inside for a day under 3 years speaks to her friends still inside

The accomodation provided is poor and the food is of poor quality and often fails to meet the relgious ordietary needs of the detainees, and there have been numerous reported cases where necessary medical treatment has been either refused or excessively delayed. But the major problem is that immigration detention is of indeterminate length, with some detainees serving perhaps a few weeks and others up to three years. Unlike in a normal jail there is no known length to the time people serve and no way that they know when they may be released or deported. And there is no process for them to appeal their detention. The government like to pretend it isn’t a prison, and there are some differences in the routines, but those held inside cannot leave and are often restricted in their movements inside the buildings.

The windows only open a few inches

There are currently in 2021 seven ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ in the UK as well as a number of short-term holding facililites. All but one of the seven are run by private companies, Serco, Mitie, G4S, a Capita subsidiary and Geo, and they are run to make profits. The less they spend on food, staffing and facilities the more the companies make – and the more those detained suffer. In 2015 the Chief Inspector of Prisons labelled it ‘a place of national concern’.

Yarl’s Wood is in an isolated location, hidden away from roads on a former wartime airfield. As I found cycling from Bedford Station it is on the top of a hill and rather windswept. From where the protesters coaches and cars can park it takes aroud a mile walking along public footpaths to get to the field next to the prison where the protests take place. The prison is surrounded by a 20 ft high metal fence, the lower half with metal panels and the upper half with a thick wire grid material that allows the upper storeys of the building to be seen from the top of a rise in the field.

It’s difficult to take pictures through this screen, but not impossible. I’d taken with me a Nikon 70-300mm lens and was working with the D810 in DX mode which converts that into a 105-450mm equivalent and still provides a 16Mp file. Focussing was tricky as the autofocus was very good at focussing on the wire, leaving the building behind well out of focus, and although it would sometimes focus on a window frame, it was far easier to use manual focus.

I also took some pictures on a 28-200mm (equivalent to 42-300mm) which was better when I wanted to include any foreground detail, but the windows became rather small. Even at 450mm any one of the pair of windows only filled around a sixth of the frame, and some of the images have been cropped.

For photographing the protesters as well as that highly versatile 28-200mm used both as a X lens on the D810 body and a full-frame lens on the D750, I also had a 28-35mm lens for use on the D750.

Many of the exposures I made where not quite sharp. It was November and the light dropped off fairly dramatically towards the end of the protest and by 3pm I was having to work at 1/250s at the full aperture of F5.6, not really fast enough a shutter speed for a 450mm lens. So camera shake added to my focus problems. At 3.30pm the protest seemed to be nearing its end, I was getting too cold and decided it was time to get on my bike and return to Bedford Station. Fortunately except for a short steep slope it was more or less downhill all the way.

In August 2020 the Home Office announced it was ‘re-purposing’ Yarl’s Wood, which became a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat. But by November 2020 it had also been brought back into its previous use with around ten women then being indefinitely detained there.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 12