Posts Tagged ‘Bedford’

Close Down Yarl’s Wood – August 2015

Monday, August 8th, 2022

Close Down Yarl’s Wood – Yarl’s Wood Immigration prison, near Bedford

Saturday 8th August 2015 saw a large protest outside the immigration jail at Yarl’s Wood where asylum seekers are locked up indefinitely by our racist immigration system without trial, a prison run for profit by a private company where detainees are subjected to abuse and sexual harassment.

Yarl’s Wood was used to detain women, many of whom had fled abuse and violence in their own countries only to arrive in this country and be locked up and further abused here. The detention centre is in a remote location in a business park on a former wartime airfield around five miles from Bedford.

The protest was one of a long series organised by Movement for Justice, but was supported by a large number of other groups, particularly many women’s groups including Sisters Uncut. In my post on My London Diary I listed 25 of them, but there were others too. This was only the second protest they had organised at Yarls Wood, but it came after a series I’d photographed at the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres.

MfJ is a small Trotskyist group which has been one of the most active UK groups organising against racism and for civil rights in the UK since it was formed by students in North London in 1995. This protest came a couple of years before a bitter dispute led many other groups to end cooperation with them, but MfJ continue their active role, in particular in opposition to deportation charter flights and the shameful Rwanda plan.

The main entrance to the detention centre is on a private road which is gated some distance from the centre. The coaches bringing people from across the country, and me and others from Bedford Station were parked in a long line at the side of a public road around a mile to the north, close to the locked entrance to the business park. The protest began on an area of grass here as we waited for everyone to arrive, and there were speeches and much chanting and dancing.

Finally the protest began its march, setting off around 300 metres along the road to a bridleway which eventually after around a mile of walking led to a hilly field beside the 20ft high fence around the prison. The lower 10ft of this is solid metal sheeting, but the upper 10ft a sturdy metal gauze, and from the hill we could see women at many of the windows waving to greet the protesters. Those held inside feel isolated and forgotten, though there are a few prison visitors and they are allowed some phone contact with solicitors and others to pursue their asylum cases.

Protesters made a great noise, kicking and banging on the metal sheeting of the fence as well as shouting, and had brought a sound system so that they could speak to the women outside. They were also able to make phone contact with some of them and amplify their voices too.

The windows of the centre only open a couple of inches, but some were able to squeeze their arms through the gap and wave cloths or articles of clothing, while others held up messages to the glass. One carefully drawn one read ‘We Want Freedom – No Human Is Illegal – Close Yarls Wood’ while another simply read ‘Help’. Others wrote their mobile numbers large enough to be read by the protesters to contact them.

A group of people wearing face masks began to write slogans on the fence, and soon a long length of it was covered with them ‘No Borders’, ‘No One is Illegal’ ‘#SetHerFree’, ‘Shut it Down’, ‘Gaza 2 Yarls Wood Destroy Apartheid Walls’, ‘Racist Walls’ and more.

The speakers on the hill facing the prison included several who had been held inside Yarls Wood and could see women inside they knew, and others who had been in other detention centres. Most people who are held in this way are finally released and allowed to stay in the UK – sometimes after several years of imprisonment – and their seems no justification for locking them up in this way.

Here’s the final paragraph I wrote back in 2015:

Too soon we had to leave. And they had to stay. As I walked away to catch the coach back to Bedford station I felt ashamed at the way that my country treats asylum seekers. They deserve support and humanity and get treated worse than criminals.

More on My London Diary: Close Down Yarl’s Wood


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Yarls Wood – Shut It Down

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

Yarls Wood – Shut It Down – Saturday 24th March 2018 saw another protest outside Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, calling for all immigration detention centres to be closed down.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

It was the 13th protest there organised by Movement for Justice, but on this occasion other groups including Sisters Uncut had also organised separately to come to the event and hold their own slightly distanced protest, following serious allegations about the way MfJ worked and had behaved, particularly to one woman who had been one of their high-profile members, but also a number of others including some of the migrants they had supported.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

I had been shocked to hear of the allegations, but not particularly surprised. I admired both the work MfJ had done over the years in leading the protests against our racist immigration system and the contribution of the woman activist concerned who I had met and photographed at a number of protests.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

But I had been long aware that MfJ was led by Trotskyists, members of the Revolutionary International League, including several white activists, having been set up by them in London in the 1990s to confront racism and fascism. So I knew that like all such groups knew they would enforce disciplines to back the party line at least on its inner members, so the revelations came as no surprise to me.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

Of course I don’t condone these actions, though I was in no position to judge on the truth of some of the allegations, but it seemed to me the most important things was that protests against our racist immigration system should continue and should be effective. For some years MfJ had been the main group taking effective action against immigration deportation flights and immigration prisons. I was pleased that the controversy actually seemed to have prompted other groups to organise and protest on this occasion and for later events.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

The protest followed much the same pattern as the others I’ve attended at Yarl’s Wood, except that the protesters spread out a little more along the slope and the fence with some wishing to distance themselves from MfJ and their PA system. And, at least while I was there, all of those who spoke over this to the protesters and the women inside were former asylum seekers who had themselves been detained, many inside Yarl’s Wood. And inside Yarls Wood there seemed to be more women able to come to the windows and join in the protest.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

I’d also gone slightly better prepared so far as equipment was concerned, as I now had a 300mm Nikon lens and a camera on which I could use it either in full-frame format or switch to DX, which made it a 450mm equivalent and still get files of sufficient size for publication. Shooting through the wire mesh of the top 10ft of the 20ft fence still made focus hard – and autofocus reliably settled on the mesh rather than the windows behind, so I had to resort to manual focus. But at least the windows didn’t move, which made this fairly easy.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

This time too we had a coach driver who knew the way and arrived in plenty of time for me to photograph the events on the road before the march to the prison. But it also meant I had to leave a little before the event had concluded to catch the train back to the station. I think for later protests I brought my folding bike so I could easily (or fairly easily as there is a long climb up from the A6 to Twinwoods and the meeting point) make my own way the five or six miles to and from Bedford station.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

The weather was good to us this time, but there had been heavy rain earlier in the week leaving at least one giant puddle we had to walk round on the way to the prison fence, and making the slope on which the protest was taking place rather treacherous.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

More pictures from the protest on My London Diary at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood.


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All photographs on this page are copyright © Peter Marshall. Contact me to buy prints or licence to reproduce.