Posts Tagged ‘asylum seekers’

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood – 2015

Tuesday, November 7th, 2023

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood – On Saturday 7th November 2015 Movement for Justice organised a large protest with other groups to show solidarity with the women locked up inside Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre and to demand that all such detention prisons be shut down.


MFJ Meet To March to Yarl’s Wood – Twinwoods Business Park

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

Yarl’s Wood was built on a former wartime airfield in remote countryside five or six miles from the centre of Bedford, perhaps chosen in part for its remoteness, which makes it difficult for visitors or protesters to get there.

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

But Movement for Justice – MfJ – and others had organised coaches from around the country, including eight from London as well as one from Bedford Station to bring people with others arriving by car, taxi or bicycle. The road leading to the prison is private, but people were able to meet on a public road around a mile away outside the main entrance to the business park there.

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

While we were waiting for everyone to arrive there was lively rally with a great deal of dancing, singing and chanting, keeping everyone’s spirits high, and keeping us warm as a chilly wind with occasional spots of rain swept across the open site on top of a high plateau.

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

Among those at the protest were many immigrants who had themselves been detained at this or other detention centres around the country while waiting for a decision to be taken on their asylum claims. Sometimes this takes several years and those who are taken to prisons such as these are held indefinitely, never knowing if or when they will be released or taken under guard to be forcibly deported.

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

Many inside have fled their countries after violent attacks including sexual assault and rape and deserve humane treatment not imprisonment. Few if any pose any real threat and could be housed outside, often with friends or relatives in this country. If they were allowed to work many would make a positive contribution. They would also be much more able to contact their solicitors and collect information to support their asylum cases than from inside the detention centres where access is limited.

Instead the Home Office locks them away and sometimes seems to have forgotten them and lost the key. One woman was detained for a couple of days less than three years before being released – after which she returned with the MfJ and spoke at protests which give those still inside some hope and remind them that they have not entirely been forgotten.

More at MFJ Meet Outside Yarl’s Wood.


MfJ ‘Set Her Free’ protest at Yarl’s Wood

As well as MfJ, Sisters Uncut, Lesbians & Gays support the Migrants, All Africans Women’s Groups, Glasgow Unity and others had come to join in the protest. Eventually with around a thousand people gathered it was time to march, though a few coaches had not yet arrived.

We set off on the long walk to the detention centre, with banners and placards, a short distance along the road and then down the public footpath which runs through a couple of fields and across another track, and into a field on the north side of the prison, about a mile from where the campaigners had gathered.

Here there was a fairly steep rise a few feet up a hill from the 20 foot high fence around the detention centre and from the top of this we could see the upper floor windows, some of which had women at them, though only through the dense thick wire grid of the upper half of the fence.

The windows do not have bars, but only open a few inches, but this was enough for the women inside to put their hands through and hold towels and clothing to greet the protesters. Some managed to hold out messages: one read ‘We came to seek Refuge. Not to be locked up’ and another ‘We are from torture. We Need Freedom’.

The lower 10 feet of the fence is made of stout metal panels, and beating or kicking on these makes a very loud noise. Later some protesters brought up rope ladders so they could hold placards and banners on the more open top of the fence so they could be seen by the women inside.

The prisoners are allowed to have phones which they need to contact their solicitors and advisers over their cases and some were able to use these to communicate with the protesters and to have their voices relayed over the PA system the protesters had brought.

There was a heavy rain shower during the protest, and the ground which was already muddy and with large puddles became very treacherous and getting up from the concrete and narrow flat area at the bottom of the fence became difficult. But soon the sun was back out again.

Most of those who spoke at the event were former detainees, some of whom had friends who were still inside the immigration prison.

The protest was still continuing when I had to leave and the low winter sun was beginning to make photography more difficult. It seemed a long and rather lonely journed as I made my way back to the road, boots heavy with mud. But I was free to go, while women who had come to this country seeking asylum from danger and violence in their own countries were still locked up by a hostile and unfeeling government.

More at MfJ ‘Set Her Free’ protest at Yarl’s Wood.


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Immigration Deaths and US Truth & Justice – 2012

Monday, November 6th, 2023

Immigration Deaths and US Truth & Justice After a protest at Harmondsworth Detention Centre following the death of a detainee I travelled into central London to cover a protest at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square on the eve of US Elections.


Noisy Demo after 17th Immigration Death – Harmondsworth Detention Centre

Immigration Deaths and US Truth & Justice

Campaigners from the All African Women’s Group and others demonstrated noisily at the Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre as the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman paid a visit following the death a week ago of Prince Kwabena Fosu, a Ghanian who died after ‘restraint’ by GEO Group staff.

Immigration Deaths and US Truth & Justice

Statements from other Ghanian detainees at the site alleged that Fusu had sustained massive blows from one officer who has later asked to change his “blood stained clothes so that no one would notice what happened” and that the officer concerned is now on leave “in order to pervert the course of justice“. There appears to have been no proper police investigation of his death.

Immigration Deaths and US Truth & Justice

The protesters walked down the private road leading to a BT facility which runs between the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Detention Centres just north of Heathrow airport, ignoring a sign stating “No Tresspassers Allowed‘ with a banner ‘We will NOT let this death be Silenced‘ and made their presence obvious to the men imprisoned inside with a megaphone and some loud shouting.

Immigration Deaths and US Truth & Justice

The detention centres are surrounded by 20ft high stout metal fences, the lower half with metal sheeting and the top 10ft of a heavy metal gauze. Through this those on the upper floors of the centre could see the protest and we could see rather shadowy shapes watching us below, and could hear some shouting and people banging on the bars of the window as guards tried to stop them.

I walked with the protesters around the Harmondsworth site, watched by police and G4S security staff. When some protesters began kicking and stamping on the metal fence to make a noise, police and G4S security came to tell them they must stop and leave the site.

The police officer in charge read a notice charging the protesters with aggravated trespass and warning them that unless they left the site now they would be arrested, and that they were banned from returning withing 3 months. The protesters decided to leave rather than be arrested, and very slowly left the site.

As so often in cases involving custody deaths, the inquest was long delayed and only concluded around seven and a half years after Fusu’s death. It concluded that his death had been contributed to by neglect and multiple serious failures by the Home Office, GEO who were running the detention centre when he died, Primecare who were responsible for healthcare services, doctors and everyone else involved.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “It is unconscionable that someone entrusted to the care of the state can die in this way. The jury have delivered a damning indictment of all of those responsible. Prince was failed at every level, by individuals and agencies who owed him a duty of care. He was treated in dehumanising way and as a discipline problem rather than as a seriously unwell man in need of compassion and medical care.

“His death comes as a direct result of the UK’s hostile immigration policies. This reinforced a toxic culture of indifference and neglect, where professionals who came into contact with Prince were simply unable to see the human being before them.”

No criminal charges have been taken against any of the companies or individuals involved in Fusu’s death. The CPS took years to decline to bring any charges of corporate manslaughter. After deciding to bring lesser charges under the Health & Safety Act 1974, they then reversed that decision.

More pictures at Noisy Demo after Immigration Death.


Truth, Justice and the American way? – US Embassy, Grosvenor Square

On US Election night the London Guantánamo Campaign hosted a protest outside the US Embassy at which various organisations raised human rights concerns about prisoners in the USA.

Among the other organisations with speakers at the event were Stop the War, tne Green Party, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, Free Talha Campaign, Cageprisoners and more and there were also some performers between the speeches. And thre was a silence with candles being lit to remember the many who have been killed.

The protesters gathered around the statue of former president Eisenhower to one side of the Embassy frontage, which was being lit up for election eve with a laser projections of the stars and stripes.

The speakers highlighted shameful human rights abuses being carried out by the USA, particularly at Guantanamo, and called for whoever was elected President to close the prison camp and end the unlawful practice of extraordinary rendition. There were also those calling for the release of Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning, the whistle-blower jailed for releasing details of US war crimes.

Aisha Maniar, organiser for the London Guantánamo Campaign, said: “Four years ago, a new American president, Barack Obama, promised the world a change it could believe in. One change he put his name to in writing was the closure of Guantánamo Bay and the end of military tribunals there. That has not materialised; the American administration has added drone attacks to its repertoire of extralegal activity, expanded the scope of arbitrary detention without charge or trial, and over 160 prisoners remain at Guantánamo Bay after almost 11 years, including British resident Shaker Aamer.”

More at Truth, Justice and the American way?


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Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow 2014

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow: Back in 2014 I could take a bus a short walk from my home which took me to within a few yards of what had recently been renamed the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre on Bath Road to the north of Heathrow Airport. And since the bus only ran every half hour I arrived a while before the protest there began and had time for a short walk – and almost half an hour to wait on my way home.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

Surprising both buses had fairly clean windows and I also took a few pictures through them on my journey, and you can see a few more at Colnbrook and Heathrow. Before the protest I’d walked beside the Duke of Northumberland’s River which runs through the extensive grounds of the British Airways offices, and on the other bank is a tall fence for the Immigration Centre and BT premises.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

The river is a man-made distributary of the River Colne, dug to take water to the Isleworth flour mill and Syon House. Along with another channel, the Longford River, built to take water to Bushy Park and Hampton Court, it has been rerouted around Heathrow airport and some of the pictures from the bus show the two in their new largely concrete channels beside the perimeter road.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

There are two immigration prisons on each side of a private road leading to the BT site behind. On the left of the picture is the Harmondsworth prison block, and on its right the high-security Colnbrook centre. At the start of the month both had been taken over by Mitie, as ‘Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre’, making ‘Care and Custody’, the Mitie subsidiary running the centre the “largest single private sector provider of immigration detention services to the Home Office.”

Mitie’s track record in running such centres should have disqualified them from running and government services. At Campsfield there had been three mass hunger strikes, a suicide and a disastrous major fire – perhaps why they had become one of the government’s favourite contractors.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

The name ‘Immigration Removal Centre’ reflects the government’s racist policies towards asylum centres. It wants to remove immigrants, whether or not they have a sound case for asylum. Such centres lock up people making it harder for them to pursue their case to remain in the UK and easier for them to be deported. The great majority of those imprisoned will eventually be given the right to remain in the UK, but may be held in centres like this for many months or even more than two years before being released so they can continue their lives – and make the positive contribution they will to UK society and our economy.

At previous protests here the protesters had been allowed to march down the private road between the two prisons and continue alongside the 20 foot fence around the Harmondsworth site back to the front. But now – perhaps due to the new management – police refused to allow them access, restricting the protest to a pen in front of the centre’s administrative block.

The protest was one of a number here organised by the Movement for Justice, and supported by many other organisation and the protesters argued for some time to be allowed to march down the roadway and around the Harmondsworth centre as usual but without success. Eventually the around a hundred protesters who had travelled out to the western edge of London moved into the pen provided.

The majority of those attending the protest were immigrants, many of whom had been held in this centre or others around the country. Harmondsworth imprisons male detainees, and many of the women at the protest had spent time in Yarl’s Wood near Bedford. Later MfJ would concentrate their protests at that centre.

The protest was a very noisy one, with loud shouting and drumming and a great deal of dancing between the speeches. Phone calls from inside told the protesters that they could be heard inside the cell blocks.

Most of those who spoke were former asylum speakers and told of the suffering they had endured in our immigration detention. As some said, it was worse than prison, as the detention was indefinite. They had no release date to look forward too, and could have been deported at any time back to the countries which they had fled in fear of their lives.

Speakers also called for an end to the ‘Detained Fast Track’ system, deliberately set up when Labour where in power to make it impossible for many asylum claimants to defend themselves against deportation and remove them from the country before they are able to do so. It’s a shameful system that no country that believes in the proper rule of law, fair play and human decency could support.

Various legal challenges to ‘Detained Fast Track’ led to the High Court declaring in January 2017 that DFT had denied justice to asylum seekers for the previous ten years, with thousands being deported without a lawful hearing of their cases.

A friend of the family of Rubel Ahmed who described how he died in Morton Hall immigration detention centre in Lincolnshire on September 5th 2014 after having been refused refused medical treatment for his chest pains. Fellow prisoners heard him screaming for help, and had rioted after his death, taking control of the detention centre until brutally suppressed. One who contacted the press was brutally beaten by prison guards.

Many more pictures from the protest on My London Diary at Close UK Immigration Prisons.


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Save Legal Aid – 2013

Sunday, July 30th, 2023

Save Legal Aid – 2013: On Tuesday 30th July 2013, ten years ago today, the Save Legal Aid Campaign held a rally outside the Old Bailey in protest against proposed cuts in legal aid which they say would severely damage the UK justice system, removing legal aid completely for many and providing a poor quality cut-price service for others.

Save Legal Aid - 2013
Labour shadow minister Sadiq Khan in fighting mood

The proposals would bring in compulsory tendering on price, with legal aid services being provided by the lowest bidder and remove any choice by defendants of who should represent them. They say this would replace all the current specialist solicitors by groups such as Tesco and Eddie Stobart employing less qualified and experienced people and providing an inferior service for those unable to pay – and so choose – their solicitors.

Save Legal Aid - 2013

The rally also celebrated the successes of the UK’s legal aid system, which speakers said had been the envy of the world since it was brought in on 30th July 1949, exactly 64 years earlier, an event celebrated with the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ and the cutting of a cake by MP Diane Abbott.

Save Legal Aid - 2013

For many of us those celebrations rang hollow. The legal aid system by 2013 was but a pale shadow of that brought in by the Legal Aid and Assistance Act on 30th July 1949. It was a skeleton that was being celebrated, although one that as several speakers who had benefited from it showed still had some effect. In the unlikely event we ever get a reforming Labour government it could perhaps still be revived, but more likely any future government will destroy it still more as New Labour did.

Legal cases in the UK are incredibly expensive in part because of the nature of our legal system which is an adversarial one, but also because of some traditional practices which render it less efficient and protect the interests of some of those who are a part of the system.

Save Legal Aid - 2013

Probably the only sound legal advice is to stay away from the law unless you are very rich. Although its often said that the same law governs both rich and poor, in practice that is not really the case, and in particular those in the middle of society get screwed.

Legal Aid was first introduced in the UK in 1949 when the welfare state was attempting to make justice fair for all. It could be claimed for almost all criminal or civil matters except libel and defamation and around 80% of the UK population were eligible for some support, with those more able to pay receiving support on a sliding scale depending on their income.

It wasn’t then a great cost to the economy as then only a small fraction of the population gad access the the legal advice that might have led them to take action in the courts. If you were poor you seldom came to court except when arrested – and most cases were dealt with by magistrates with legal aid seldom being involved.

In the 1970s Law Centres were set up in many of the poorer areas of the country, giving free advice and explaining and aiding their clients to take matters of social welfare, housing and criminality to the courts. And in 1973 a ‘Green Form Scheme’ was set up to allow those of low incomes to get legal advice from solicitors. Both led to increases in cases and a corresponding increase in the overall cost of legal aid.

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, the The Immigration Act 1971 and the the British Nationality Act 1981 each led to a predictable and dramatic increase in the number of cases requiring legal aid to resolve disputes.

Various actions were taken to reduce the cost to the country of legal aid, with eligibility being drastically reduced both by income limits and by reducing the areas of work for which it was available.

Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty

New Labour reformed the system when they came to power, but their reforms proved a disaster and they piled a second disaster on top by privatising the system. By the time the coalition government came to power there wasn’t really a great deal left, but their Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) saw off most of what remained.

Since then, to get legal aid you have to have a disposable income of less than £733 a month and less than £8000 of disposable capital. Those receiving universal credit and some other benefits also qualify. There are different income and asset qualification levels for criminal proceedings in Crown Court cases.

As well as these tests legal aid is only available if your case passes a “merits” test as defined by The Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulations 2013. It has to be assessed by the Director as being in the public interest and having at least a 50% chance of success.

Speakers at the protest included Raphael Rowe, wrongly imprisoned as one of the M25 three, Anne Hall the mother of Daniel Roque Hall, a man suffering from a rare condition who would have died in prison without legal aid which got him released to receive care, and Sally, the mother of a rape victim who police failed, as well as Sadiq Khan MP Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, Ian Lawrence of NAPO, activist, poet, co-founder and co-chair of BARAC Zita Holbourne, Shauneen Lambe of Just for Kids Law and criminal defence solicitor and Justice Alliance member Matt Foot, but the loudest applause was for a rousing speech by Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty. You can see pictures of all of them and more about the protest on My London at Save Legal Aid.


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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.


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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.


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Protest against fast track deportations

Friday, May 5th, 2023

Protest against fast track deportations: On 5th May 2014, the early May bank holiday, protesters went to Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre close to Heathrow in solidarity with the prisoners inside who had gone on mass hunger strike against the unfair ‘fast track’ system which denies many a proper hearing. The were also protesting against other problems in the private-run prison.

Protest against fast track deportations

The hunger strike by over 300 men held at the centre was sparked off by the failure of the only fax machine at the centre, an essential service for those trying to prepare their case to gain asylum in the UK.

Protest against fast track deportations

The strike was suspended over the weekend after Home Office officials met delegates from the hunger strikers and promised to give answers to their demands on Tuesday, 6 May.

Protest against fast track deportations

Detained Fast Track (DFT) was first introduced by New Labour, but its use had expanded under the coalition government. As I noted, it “is inherently unfair, giving asylum seekers little or no time to prepare their cases and has resulted in many unfair decisions. It disadvantages those in most need of asylum who are unlikely to have prepared essential documents in advance and to be in a condition to represent themselves effectively. And as they are held in detention it is very difficult or impossible for them to prepare a case, particularly when communication with the outside world is limited and difficult.

Protest against fast track deportations

As well as being unfair, DFT is also expensive, thought to at least double the costs to the country for every asylum seeker held in detention, though the government does not release the exact figures. But despite the cost, the quality of accommodation and services in the detention centres is extremely poor. Many of those held have medical problems, often linked to the reasons why they fled their countries and there has been a desperate lack of proper healthcare at this and other immigration detention centres.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that many in the Home Office – including those in charge – have lost any feeling of compassion for the desperate people who seek asylum, seeing them as a threat to our country, best locked away and as far as possible out of mind. In my post on the protest I mentioned the case reported by HM Inspectorate of Prisons of an 84 year old man suffering from dementia who died after being held for almost 3 weeks without and proper medical attention before being taken to hospital in handcuffs.

Hard too not to see the incompetence often displayed as deliberate, as in the case of those held sometimes for over a year after having agreed to voluntary repatriation or those transferred to here for interviews in London and then abandoned here rather than being returned to other detention centres to continue to consult with their lawyers and have family visits.

We could vaguely see a lot of hands and very dim faces in the windows. As well as the grid of the fence there is a layer of dirty glass and another of plexiglass between them and us

Difficult to understand the lack of legal help and advice at this and other centres enabling the detainees to prepare their cases, and the many holdups that they encounter in doing this – even when the fax machine is working.

Probably the main changes that have taken place at Harmondsworth since this protest nine years ago is that the prison, together with its neighbour Colnbrook are under a new private management and that security and police presence has been considerably tightened. In 2014 the protesters were able to walk down the private road leading to a BT site between the two prisons and continue around the outside of the 20ft high prison fence. Since then protests have been restricted to the front of the building, out of sight of the prisoners. Back in 2014 the police told them that so longs as they behaved sensibly and caused no trouble they would be allowed to protest – and they were.

Later in 2014 the High Court ruled that the Detained Fast Track procedure was was unlawful, though the Home Office appealed and eventually only minor changes have been made. The process is clearly in breach of international law, as is the wholesale detention of asylum seekers.

As recently as 2018 the UK again committed to a declaration that it would “ensure that any detention in the context of international migration follows due process, is non-arbitrary, is based on law, necessity, proportionality and individual assessments.” Current and proposed UK policies break every aspect of this commitment and other aspects of international law, much of which was driven by the UK and to which successive governments have at least paid lip-service. Our current government has declared it will ignore those aspects it finds inconvenient.

More on the protest at Support Harmondsworth Mass Hunger Strike.


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Algeria, BDS and Kenya – 2014

Wednesday, April 12th, 2023

Algeria, BDS and Kenya: The three protests I covered on Saturday 12th April 2014 were all about activities in other countries, though the first was calling on UK consumers to take action by boycotting goods produced in illegally occupied Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.


Don’t Buy Sodastream at John Lewis – Oxford St

Algeria, BDS and Kenya

Supporters of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign were handing out flyers in a regular fortnightly protest outside John Lewis, urging people not to buy SodaStream products which were then being made in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

The protests are a part of the BDS campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israeli products called for by Palestinian civil society, particularly aimed at products which are made in the illegally occupied settlements.

Algeria, BDS and Kenya

The Financial Times had recently commented that the “status of the settlements is clear in international law even if Israel chooses to ignore this and expand its colonisation of Palestinian land, while ostensibly negotiating on the creation of a Palestinian state.” Sodastream makes some of its dispensers in Ma’ale Adumim, a large Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. Trade with these illegal settlements is illegal under international law.

Algeria, BDS and Kenya

Sodastream claim that they promote peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews by employing around 500 Palestinians, but the FT pointed out “The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to build “bridges to peace” on other people’s land without their permission.”

A former Sodastreamn worker there claims that most Palestinians working for Sodastream support the boycott “because they are against [Israel’s] occupation. But they cannot afford to personally boycott work opportunities.” The company was reported to be trying to set up a new factory inside Israel rather than the occupied territories which would mainly employ Israeli Arabs. In 2015 as a result of protests such as this one, Sodastream moved production from Ma’ale Adumim in the occupied West Bank to Lehavim in Israel proper. The company, which had been founded in the UK in 1903 but relaunched in 1998 was bought by PepsiCo in 2018.

Algeria, BDS and Kenya

Before the establishment of the state of Israel, Palestinians (including Druze & Bedouins) owned 92% of the land, while Jews owned about 8%. The UN awarded Israel 54% of the land, though a fairly large part of this was empty desert. In the 1948 war, Israel took another 24%. In 1967 Israel occupied all of Palestine and with further settlements and the building of the separation wall since then only the Gaza strip and around 40% of the occupied West Bank remains under Palestinian control.

Don’t Buy Sodastream at John Lewis


Against the Electoral Masquerade in Algeria – Algerian Embassy, Riding House St

This protest in London came as presidential elections were about to begin in Algeria, electing President Bouteflika for his fourth term since 1999.

The Algeria Solidarity Campaign say these elections are a huge scam and they are “more convinced than ever that the upcoming elections will be neither free and fair, nor transparent. They will certainly not result in the election of a legitimate President, representative of the wishes of the people.”

Their campaign called “for a massive boycott and/or abstention from voting and its full rejection of the ‘Presidential poll’, as it deems it to be a mere spectacle meant to maintain and cloak its authoritarian and corrupt rule in electoral legitimacy.”

The turnout in the election was low at 51.7%, and as low as 20% in some regions, and around 10% of votes were blank or invalid. But of those who voted, 81.5% were for Bouteflika. Ill health meant he made few public appearances in his fourth term and he resigned in April 2019 after months of mass protests, dying two years later.

Against the Electoral Masquerade in Algeria


Somali Refugees mistreated in Kenya – Kenya High Commission, Portland Place

Members of the Somali community protested outside the Kenyan Embassy against the mistreatment of Somali refugees at the Kasarani Concentration Camp in Kenya. They called for the ICC to investigate the crimes being committed there.

According to Reuters, the Kenyan authorities arrested more than 1,000 Somalis in mass arrests in a Somali dominated suburb of Nairobi following terrorist attacks by the Somali militant Islamic group al Shabaab. Almost 4000 were arrested and more than a thousand were held in the Kasarani sports stadium. Human Rights Watch reported many were held in packed and filthy police station cells and they saw “police whipping, beating, and verbally abusing detainees. There have been numerous credible accounts of Kenyan security forces extorting money and beating people during the arrests and in detention.”

Access to the Kasarani camp by invesigators and reporters was severely restricted, and the few people allowed access “were not able to freely interview detainees in the stadium.”

The arrests followed a number of earlier incidents reported by Human Rights Watch when “Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, and otherwise abused and arbitrarily detained at least 1,000 refugees, including women and children, between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013, following grenade and other attacks.”

Kenya still hosts large numbers of refugees from other African countries, including around 287,000 Somalis in a total of 520,000 refugees and asylum seekers.

Somali Refugees mistreated in Kenya


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Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023

Back on Saturday 22nd March 2008 I had a rather varied day in London, meeting protesters cycling to Aldermaston on my way to photograph a march for freedom in Tibet, then going to a protest against the deportation of a gay man to Iran and finally to a pillow fight.


Bikes Not Bombs: London – Aldermaston

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

I was on foot and had just come out of Oxford Circus station when I saw the CND Bikes Not Bombs group of cyclists who had begun their ride in Trafalgar Square earlier and were on their way to ride to Aldermaston. Though when I took a few photographs as you can see from the bus they were cycling in exactly the wrong direction, east towards Ilford. Of course they weren’t lost, just trying to attract some attention to the protest, riding with a sound system along London’s busiest shopping street.

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

I’d thought briefly about taking part myself in the event, as I’d used a bike to get around since I was six, having graduated then from a first a pedal car and then a tricycle. I did own a car briefly when I was around 21, but soon realised it was impractical in cities, expensive, polluting and environmentally unsound and never made the same mistake again.

But for the reasons I listed on My London Diary – sloth, other events, lousy weather and a dislike of early rising – I didn’t join this official ride, though I did cycle on my own from Reading to Aldermaston and back on the following Monday to join the protesters there.

Bikes Not Bombs: London – Aldermaston


Support Tibet March

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

I was on my way to Park Crescent, a short walk north of the Chinese Embassy where Tibetans and supporters of freedom in Tibet were meeting to march through London on the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.

Bikes Not Bombs, Tibet, Deportation & Pillow Fight

Tibet came under effective control of the Chinese government in 1951, when an agreement had been come to the status of Tibet within the recently established People’s Republic of China. In 1949 Tibetan protesters feared the Chinese were about to arrest the 14th Dalai Lama. Protests were at first peaceful but were brutally repressed by the People’s Liberation Army and there was heavy fighting which also involved Tibetan separatists who had been carrying out guerrilla warfare against Chinese forces.

The Dalai Lama fled the country and set up an independent Tibetan government in India, where he still lives – and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The Tibetan uprising had begun on 10th March 1959 and this day is celebrated each year as Tibetan Uprising Day and Women’s Uprising Day. Since 2009, following protests on 10th March 2008 in Lhasa, the Chinese-controlled authority in Tibet have celebrated the day they fully regained control, 28th March as the national anniversary of Serfs Emancipation Day.

The Tibetan Independence Movement who organise annual protests calling for freedom for Tibet was originally funded and trained by the CIA, but this was withdrawn following Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. And the Dalai Lama who had originally backed it, and who appears as a large photograph carried reverently in the marches, also withdrew support for the independence movement in the 1970s.

It is clear from reports by Amnesty International and others is that there are considerable human rights abuses in Tibet. The 2021 US State Department report listing includes “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom….”

Support Tibet March


Defend Mehdi Kazemi – Downing St

But of course human rights are not always respected in this country, and we currently have a government which is proposing to withdraw from some international human rights conventions and proposing racist anti-immigrant policies which are deliberately in breach of them.

Back in 2008, the Labour government was also riding roughshod over the human rights of some immigrants, setting up a system of large-scale detention of asylum seekers and treating individuals unfairly in a bid to outflank the Tories on cutting immigration through blatantly right-wing policies.

Mehdi Kazemi had come to the UK to study after having been involved in a consensual homosexual relationship in Iran. After his boyfriend was executed for this he became a wanted man in Iran and he went to the Netherlands to apply for political asylum.

This was refused as he had come from the UK and so was not allowed under the 2003 Dublin Agreement. The Uk had refused him permission to stay in Britain and were proposing to deport him to Iran where he would be tried and executed.

His case was just one of many where the Home Office were failing to recognise the need for refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of persecution because of their sexual orientation, and for failing to have accurate and up-to-date information on homophobic persecution in countries to which LGBT asylum seekers might be deported.

Support for Kazemi at this protest and by a number of MPs, MEPs and human rights activists did eventually result in the Home Office agreeing to review his case and he was given leave to remain here in May 2008.

Defend Mehdi Kazemi


Flash Mob Global Pillow Fight – Leicester Square

My day ended in very much lighter mood with a pillow fight in Leicester Square, one of many organised in capitals around the world due to kick off at 15.03PM.

I commented: “Of course its a trivial, silly event, but the idea and the kind of organisation involved I think represents something new and exciting, a kind of ‘Demo 2.0’ which we will surely see more of in the future.”

Perhaps this hasn’t had as much impact here in the UK as I had hoped, but I think may have been more important elsewhere in the world. To some extent it has been outgrown as Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps have become more important and even protests organised months and years in advance make use of them.

But it was interesting if rather tricky to photograph, and I got stuck in without a pillow and at some danger to my health, main not “from impact but suffocation when some pillows split open to fill the air with clouds of feathers and feather-dust. At times I wished I was wearing a mask to protect my lungs; keeping my mouth firmly closed and breathing though my nose only stopped the larger particles.

And I also found the the autofocus on my DSLR was too efficient at focusing on feathers in the air, and until I turned it off and went manual many of my pictures failed to be sharp for the people and pillows behind the screen of feathers.

Later as the pixel count on DSLRs increased and full-frame cameras appeared I found it very useful to work in many situations using just the central ‘DX’ half-frame area of the viewfinder – which would have been very useful to let me see the people and pillows coming for me, but on this occasion I found “chaos really rules taking pictures becomes a press and hope situation. I think some of them do give an idea of what it was like to be there.

Flash Mob Global Pillow Fight


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UN Anti-Racism Day 2017 & 2023

Saturday, March 18th, 2023

UN Anti-Racism Day 2017 & 2023

Today, 18th march is the UN Anti-Racism Day, and in 2017 it was also a Saturday, and tens of thousands marched through London, starting as they will today outside the BBC and ending with a large rally in Westminster.

UN Anti-Racism Day 2017 & 2023

Today’s march, as in 2017, is organised by Stand Up to Racism, Unite Against Fascism and Love Music, Hate Racism and the TUC and supported by many other groups, including football fans from around the country who will be wearing team colours.

UN Anti-Racism Day 2017 & 2023

This years march is perhaps even more important, with the UK Government pursuing clearly racist policies against immigrants in last year’s Nationality and Borders Act, its attempt to deport refugees to Rwanda and Suella Braverman’s recently announced Illegal Migration Bill.

Phyll Opoku of PCS ‘Stand Up to Racism’

Football fans have been energised by the BBC’s reaction to Gary Lineker’s tweet. He was clearly correct in observing the hostile anti-refugees language used by the government to language used in Germany in the 1930s. They say the government are trying to stir up division and racism to deflect attention from their multiple crises and turn refugees into scapegoats.

Unfortunately it isn’t just the government, but also the official opposition who continue to up the ante over immigration, refusing to stand up to the government with any real attempt to improve our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Real opposition to racism has been left to a few increasingly isolated figures on the left of the party – including many of those who have been ejected for supposed anti-semitism, increasingly being used to expel Jewish members who support the Palestinian people. And of course left to footballers or former footballers.

Even Theresa May, who the 2017 march was strongly opposed to for promoting racist measures against immigrants and in particular Muslims in concert with Donald Trump has found Braverman’s latest proposals which will break international law on the human rights of migrants a step too far.

The 2023 march organisers say:

In Britain we face a crisis-ridden government attempting to use racism to make ordinary people pay for the cost of living crisis. The ‘Rwanda plan’, the Nationality and Borders Act, racist deportations and the hostile environment for refugees and migrants are all about divide and rule.

The government deny the reality of institutional racism – despite massively disproportionate deaths in black communities during the pandemic – and the reality of deaths in police custody, racist stop and search and discrimination across society.

Internationally we are seeing the growth of the racist and fascist right and an alarming rise in Islamophobia, antisemitism, Sinophobia, anti East/South East Asian racism and attacks on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Despite a rail strike this Saturday I hope to be there later today, again taking photographs and marching with many thousands of others.

Much more from the 2017 march and rally on My London Diary: Thousands March Against Racism.


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