Posts Tagged ‘detainees’

US Shame – Jan 11th

Monday, January 11th, 2021

Many commentators after the recent Trump-induced invasion of the US Capitol said that the 6th January 2021 (1/6/21) is a date that will go down in history as a day of shame for the US, comparing it to December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The latter was perhaps a little over the top, as that attack killed 2,403 US personnel, while the death toll after police let Trump supporters in to protest currently stands at five, three of these from health-related issues. But certainly it was a shameful day for US democracy – and a date that might well have been better compared to 1/11/02, 11th January 2002, the date when the first prisoners were held in illegal detention at Guantánamo Bay.

It was five years later than I first photographed a protest against this illegal detention, outside the US Embassy in London, still then in Grosvenor Square, where Amnesty International had brought over a hundred people dressed in orange jump suits to represent the detaines, forming them up into a large block in front of the embassy.

The following year on the sixth anniversary I photographed rather more demonstrations around London. Amnesty were back again outside the US Embassy, though the area in front of the embassy had been sealed off, presumably to prevent the protest taking place there. Instead it was on the street just to one side.

My next stop was the Regents Park Mosque, where I met a group of campaigners, some dressed in the now familiar orange jump suits, from the London Guantánamo Campaign and Cageprisoners who were handing out fliers calling for the closure of the Guantánamo prison camp at various sites around London all day. After giving them to people leaving the Mosque after Friday prayers I went with them to Paddington Green Police Station, where terrorist suspects were normally detained and questioned.

From there I returned to the US Embassy, where the pavement in front was now open again, and a small group from London Catholic Worker had come to hold a vigil. A man from the US Embassy came out and tried to get them to move away, but they stood their ground, lighting a circle of candles as it grew dark.

The final event of the day was a rally in Parliament Square, with speakers including former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg (above) and leading campaigners for the closure of this illegal prison which has cast huge shame on the claims of the USA to be a freedom-loving democracy which upholds international law. Of course those claims have long been known to be largely sham, with the USA backing many of the world’s most repressive regimes, taking part in shady affairs such as the Bay of Pigs attempted invasion, and sponsoring coups such as the 1973 Chilean coup d’état that deposed the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende on ‘9/11’ 1973.

Although many detainees have been released – there was no evidence against the great majority who were simply foreigners who far various reasons in the wrong place at the wrong time, many held by militias and sold to the US who were offering considerable bounties – the camp remains open. President Trump in 2018 signed an executive order to keep the detention camp open indefinitely, and currently 40 prisoners remain there, still subject to torture and degrading conditions. Guantánamo remains a shameful blot on the United States.

2007
Close guantanamo 5th anniversary demonstration

2008
Six years of Guantanamo: Amnesty
London Guantanamo Campaign / Cageprisoners
Guantanamo – London Catholic Worker
Guantanamo – Parliament Square Rally

There are reports on many later protests calling for the closure of Guantánamo on My London Diary.

Yarl’s Wood November 7th 2015

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

On November 7th 2015 I went to a protest outside Yarl’s Wood organised by Movement for Justice, calling for this and all immigration detention centres to be closed down. It was a cold and wet day, but fortunately the rain eased off at times.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Home Office began moving detainees out from the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre, and all of them had gone by the middle of August. The centre which opened in 2001 had been used mainly to hold women, though there were also some families there. But the centre is not to be closed down, but is being used to house migrants who have come across the Channel. It seems likely they will be treated just as badly as the previous residents.

There was very little reason for most of those housed there over the nineteen years it was in operation to be held in a secure unit. They presented no danger to the rest of us and the centre provided none of the support that many needed, with inadequate health care, poor food and little or no counselling for the many vulnerable people who who had fled their countries because of violence against them including rape. Holding them in this fairly remote location with limited contact with the outside world made it difficult for them to prepare themselves for immigration hearings.

Some were found to have been illegally deported and many more were not given proper consideration before they were deported. But over half of those held there are simply eventually released, amny after months or even years of imprisonment – one woman was held for just a few days under 4 years. These people are not criminals but we treat them as if they were – though worse in some ways as their detention is indefinite at the the whim of the Home Office.

Yarl’s Wood had a particularly bad record, with abuse and sexual harassment and a failure to provide adequate care, highlighted both by official inspections and by undercover reporting for Channel 4 News. Many of those held inside have reported horrific stories of their mistreatment.

Yarl’s Wood is run for profit by Serco, whose CEO Robert Soames is the brother of former Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames and is a grandson of Winston Churchll and a nephew of former Defence secretary Duncan Sandys. Like many of our leading Tory politicians he studied PPE at Oxford and was a member of the Bullingdon Club. Perhaps these kind of connections help the company in getting lucrative government contracts despite their poor record on delivery.

Serco have been given the most Covid-related government contracts among UK-listed companies and despite their failures with test and trace were recently awarded another £57 million contract for it – as with the others without any competitive tendering. Shadow Cabinet Office secretary Rachel Reeves commented “This government seems obsessed with shovelling huge sums of public money to a handful of outsourcing companies without competition, rigour or accountability“. Serco’s share price shot up by 17% on news of the latest government handout and they revised their profit forecast for the year upwards to £165m.

Yarl’s Wood is on an industrial estate created on a former Second World War air base in the middle of nowhere on the top of hills a little over 5 miles north of Bedford. Around 20 coaches brought campaigners from around the country, with a shuttle service bringing some from Bedford Station and others arriving by car, taxi and bicycle. Among them were a number of Movement for Justice supporters who had previously been held in this and other detention centres. Most of the speakers at the rally were former inmates, and we also heard from some of those inside who are allowed mobile phones and held up their numbers in the windows.

The protesters are not allowed into the Business Centre and instead walk along the road and across a several fields on a public footpath to reach a field on the edge of the centre which is surrounded by a 20 foot high fence. The bottom ten feet of the fence is made of solid metal panels and the centre can only be seen through the top half which is covered with a metal mesh.

Photographing through this mesh presents some problems. Apart from partly blocking the view, my cameras autofocus systems prefer to focus on the mesh and it is generally easy to use manual focus. Standing on the small hill facing the centre gives a view of the top two floors of one wing of the centre above the solid metal fence. The windows of the centre can only be opened a few inches – just enough for those inside to wave a towel or clothing etc. And Serco staff try to keep the women inside away from the windows and in other parts of the centre, sometimes assaulting them to prevent them reaching these windows.

‘We Are From Torture We Need Freedom’

To get good views of the windows long lenses are needed, and require fast shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. I don’t really have the most suitable lenses for the job.

Many more pictures and more about the protest on My London Diary:
MfJ ‘Set Her Free’ protest at Yarl’s Wood
MFJ Meet Outside Yarl’s Wood


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.