Posts Tagged ‘flares’

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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Education Cuts & Egyptian Revolution – 2011

Monday, January 29th, 2024

Education Cuts & Egyptian Revolution: People were protesting on the streets of London on Saturday 29th January 2011 in solidarity with demonstrations in Egypt at the Egyptian Embassy. Elsewhere students, teachers, parents and others took part in a large peaceful march against increases in student fees and cuts in education and public services.


Solidarity with the Egyptian Revolution – Egyptian Embassy, South St. Mayfair

Education Cuts & Egyptian Revolution

Around 200 people, mainly Egyptians living in the UK had come to the street outside the embassy for peaceful but noisy protest “to show our solidarity & support of our fellow Egyptians in our beloved country, who decided on making Tuesday 25/01/2011 a day of protests & demonstrations in Egypt against the unfair, tyrant, oppressive & corrupt Egyptian regime that has been ruling our country for decades.

Education Cuts & Egyptian Revolution

The protest had brought together Egyptians from differing political & ideological backgrounds, inviting “inviting all supporters of human rights & civic democracy to come & support us in delivering our message to the Egyptian regime.”

Education Cuts & Egyptian Revolution

Their stated goal was to achieve “a democratic, free & civil nation capable of ensuring a dignified, honourable & non-discriminatory life for all Egyptians.

Education Cuts & Egyptian Revolution

Although the Arab uprising in Egypt in 2011 achieved some of its aims, including the end of the 30 year dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak, it was followed by a struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power and Mohamed Morsi being elected as president in June 2012 only to be overthrown a few months later and the countrycpoming under the military regime led by Abdel Fattah el-Sissi since 2014.

In an interview with German news organisation DW ten years after the upraising an Egyptian activist commented “The counterrevolution has pushed the country into a state that is even more oppressive than before the 2011 revolution. The uprising has taken a terrible turn and has led to a tremendous regression.”

The protesters aimed to bring together people from across a wide range of political viewpoints, they refused to allow Hizb Ut-Tahrir protesters to join them, as they are opposed to human rights and democracy.

More pictures Solidarity with the Egyptian Revolution


Hizb ut-Tahrir Turned Away – South Audley St

Hizb Ut-Tahrir Britain, an Islamist group calling for the establishment of a Muslim caliphate, marched to the Egyptian Embassy to take part in the protest there but were turned away.

When they arrived they were met by Egyptians taking part in the protest and told very firmly that the embassy protest – like the Egyptian revolution – was to be entirely non-sectarian and that they were not welcome there.

Instead they had to hold their own separate demonstration around a hundred yards away around the corner along South Audley St, where they were spread out along the pavement between South Street and Hill Street.

As always at their events, everyone was dressed in black and the men and women were segregated. The men filled most of the pavement along South Audley St, with just a few women at one end, with most of them around the corner eastwards on South Street, away from the loundspeakers and the embassy.

As I commented it seemed a clear demonstration of the lack of equality they would like to impose. None of the speeches while I was there was in English, but I was able to gather that they were calling for Egypt to come under the rule of an Islamic Khalifah (caliphate), the “real change” which they see as the answer to everything.

It was a call diametrically opposed to the aims of the Egyptian revolution, which aimed to get rid of the oppressive regime and make Egypt a free and democratic nation, a secular state where there is no discrimination based on gender, religion or political views. The last thing they wanted was to replace one repressive regime by another, though depressingly that was what the future held for their country.

Hizb ut-Tahrir Turned Away


No Fees, No Cuts! Student March

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts had organised two large national protests in London and Manchester to defend education and the public sector. They took place a little over two months after another large student march had ended with a small group walking into the Tory HQ at Millbank and occupying it.

On that occasion the police had tried to carry out a brutal eviction and were met with an angry response, with the protesters smashing large plate glass windows to allow others to enter, though few did. A number of protesters and press were injured by police (and a few police injured too), though most of those at the scene simply watched from outside in the courtyard and were appalled when a stupid idiot threw an empty fire extinguisher from the roof and began to chant against him. Fortunately no-one was killed. But the event made the headlines of those media organisations which generally turn their blind eye to protests, though the reports didn’t much engage with the reasons for the protest or report fairly on all that had happened.

Police seemed to have learnt some lessons from their mistakes on that occasion and made much greater efforts to communicate sensibly with the protesters and not to kettle them or push them around. As I wrote “Despite the number of protesters in anarchist dress with facemasks, most students are not out to cause trouble.”

The march had begun with a short rally in Malet Street and I met it as the front was making its way out of Russell Square walking with it and taking pictures of the marchers and of short protests at Topshop and Vodaphone shops in Strand against their tax avoidance. Police lined the front of the shops and soon persuaded the protesters to move on.

Things livened up a little outside Downing Street were the march paused for some angry shouting and several people let of smoke flares before moving on. Many stopped for a while in Parliament Square, with some dancing to a samba band, but after a while everyone moved off to where the march was to end outside Tate Britain on Millbank.

Unlike in the previous November there was a large group of police lined across the entire frontage of the Millbank tower complex – bolting the stable door as I think it unlikely that there would have been any trouble.

The only sign of any conflict between police and protesters I saw did come outside here, when there was a brief sit-down after police tried to drive two vans full of reinforcements through the crowd. Sensibly the police simply brought in a line of officers to allow the vans to drive along the pavement rather than try to force people to move.

By the time I arrived outside Tate Britain with the tail of the march they rally there had ended and I decided it was time to leave, though some of those on the protest were planning to continue elsewhere – including going to the Egyptian Embassy where I had been earlier. Later at home I read reports on-line that half a dozen people had been arrested in minor incidents.


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Students Against Cuts And Fees – 2010

Saturday, December 9th, 2023

Students Against Cuts And Fees – Thursday 9th December was a day of confusion on the streets of London with confusing and inconsistent policing and thousands of angry students.

Students Against Cuts And Fees

Parliament was debating a three-fold increase in university tuition fees and students filled the main streets of Whitehall in a noisy and at times indisciplined protest. Police actions stirred up antagonism, and there were a number of charges in which protesters and press suffered minor injuries as riot police used their batons and police horses also made a short charge into the crowd.

Students Against Cuts And Fees

Some of the other press photographers covering the event were clearly targeted by individual ‘rogue’ police officers who deliberately smashed their equipment, apparently fearing their pictures might show them engaging in brutal attacks on some of the protesters. Fortunately I was a few hundred yards away covering the official rally on the Embankment when the worst violence flared up around Parliament.

Students Against Cuts And Fees

Although the students were rightly angry at the increase in fees, the removal of the education maintenance allowance and swingeing cuts in some courses, particularly in the arts and humanities which are to lose 80% of their funding, the overall mood of the protest was good-natured if exuberant.

Students Against Cuts And Fees

Later in the day when a few fireworks were thrown into the police lines in front of the Houses of Parliament the crowd dancing in front of the police turned towards those who had thrown them and chanted against them, using the sound system to tell them that the police were only doing their job and that police too were suffering from the government cuts.

On My London Diary you can read my fairly lengthy account of the march as I saw it, including my impression that “that both police and some of the protesters were clearly guilty of over-reacting“. I won’t repeat most of that here, but one paragraph of my own experiences close to Parliament stands out:

I spent a few minutes trying to take pictures and getting very squashed before deciding I needed to push my way out for my own safety, both from the police and from being crushed in the crowd. A few minutes earlier I had been in the front line and being crushed by the crowd against the barriers in front of the riot police, and I and the others around me were repeatedly threatened by riot police shaking batons at us and telling us they would attack us if we didn’t move back – which was simply not possible – we were totally unable to move due to the pressure of the crowd.

Students Against Cuts – Day 3

I made my way down to the area of the Embankment were the end of march rally was supposed to take place, but few people had arrived there and it had not started. After much angry shouting at the organisers to stop playing music and start the speeches it did begin with speeches from union leaders – including Brendan Barber and Bob Crow, who got a big welcome – and politicians.

But the rally was then interrupted by someone shouting that police had attacked the demonstrators in Parliament Square, charging with police horses, and I joined a number of others in trying to make my way there. Most were stopped by police at Bridge Street, but some of us with press cards were allowed through, while the others formed another protest on Westminster Bridge.

Things were very confused in Parliament Square, but many protesters were still kettled there, keeping themselves warm by dancing, some around small fires of burning placards. And a plastic security hut was set on fire. Many by now were wanting to go home, but all the exits were blocked by police.

Police told some they could leave by going up Parliament Street and Whitehall, and I went with them, only to find the way blocked by a line of police with riot shields who were not at all interested in my press card (one TV camera crew did manage to push their way past.) Behind them were a line of police horses, and we were all pushed back towards Parliament Square.

I tried to go from Parliament Street back to Parliament Square, but a line of riot police refused to let me through, telling me to go to see their boss when I showed my press card. I did and listened to him arguing with a group of students that they were not being detained although they were not being allowed to leave. It make absolutely no sense, and is something the police often say which undermines the relationship between people and police that is essential for the cooperation that the police need to do their job. This event was clearly a huge own goal for policing.

I didn’t bother to stop and argue as I saw that a few yards to the right, in an area presumably under the control of another officer, people were walking freely through – so I joined them and made my way back to Parliament Square, turning into Bridge Street. Another police line was stopping the protesters exiting but let me through without problems when I showed my press card and told them I was on my way home.

The protesters, most of whom also wanted now only to go home peacefully were less fortunate and were detained for another four or more hours, and there were violent incidents and arrests. “Police at one point apparently pushed a large group into a very confined space on Westminster Bridge with a total disregard for their safety; some had to behave medical treatment for crushing, and there could easily have been more serious or fatal injuries and people pushed into the freezing river below.”

My conclusion to my article on the day was “It was a day of confusion, with protesters and police both failing to understand what was happening, and an official student leadership that fails to understand the mood and anger of the students and others – and although the RMT and Bill Crow had offered support, the TUC has curiously failed to take action, putting off its march against the cuts until March.

More on My London Diary at Students Against Cuts – Day 3.


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.


Shut Down Racist Yarl’s Wood

Saturday, March 12th, 2022

Shut Down Racist Yarl’s Wood. On Saturday 12th March 2016, six years ago today, I made another visit to the immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood where the Movement for Justice (MfJ) had organised another large protest.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Women at the windows – one holds a bible through the narrow window opening

The Home Office no longer uses Yarl’s Wood to house large numbers of women asylum seekers, but unfortunately this does not mean their cruel and racist policies have changed. Women were at first moved out because of Covid, but Priti Patel has set up a new immigration prison, Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre, to hold 80 detainees to replace it, with around 88 women being moved and locked up there for Christmas 2021.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
People march down the road to a footpath leading to Yarl’s Wood

The new centre at Hassockfield is on the site of the notorious Medomsley Detention Centre, where over 1,800 young male detainees were abused in the 1960s to 1980s, and is at at Medomsley Edge, 13 miles NW of Durham, 1.7 miles North of Consett. It has been renamed again as Derwentside, to give it a more friendly image, though the river is around a mile away as the crow flies. Almost certainly the Home Office was fed up with the protests organised by MfJ and others at the already rather remote site at Yarl’s Wood, around 5 miles outside Bedford, and thought it a good idea to move it rather further away from London, where there are many former detainees and activists who came to demonstrations.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Marching along the footpath

But of course people came from all over the country – including from Scotland – to Yarl’s Wood, and protests will continue, with an active ‘No to Hassockfield‘ local group at their centre, although it’s too far away for me to photograph them.

Women have little to protest with and the windows only open an inch or so. They hold messages to the glass and throw out toilet paper

Hassockfield is so remote that the Home Office was unable to find law firms which would give satisfactory tenders to give legal advice there and abandoned the search – with detainees now only able to get advice by phone. Women for Refugee Women are calling for donations to mount a legal challenge over this lack of support. There is a great deal more information about the cruel and racist treatment of asylum seekers with many telling their own stories on their web site.

Yarl’s Wood like almost all of the immigration prisons is privately run for the Home Office, with companies cutting costs for profit

Back on 12th March 2016, my own journey to Yarl’s Wood didn’t go too well, with a train cancellation. But I still got to Bedford Station in a little over two hours and in time for the coach organised by MfJ to the meeting point at Twinwoods Business Park, around a mile walk from the prison. Unfortunately the coach driver didn’t know the way and police had put up large signs stating the road up from the A6 was closed (though in fact they were letting traffic to the protest to go through.) The result was a rather lengthy tour of the Bedfordshire countryside – with another wrong turning, meaning we arrived the best part of an hour late.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Protesters climb up to show placards and balloons to the women

Fortunately the event had started with a rally on the road waiting for people from around the country to arrive, and the mile or so walk to the prison was waiting for us and only just about to begin.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Battering the fence makes a lot of noise

Fortunately it was a fine day for the walk, but there had been heavy rain in previous days and some of the footpath and the field beside the prison where the protest took place was full of mud and some puddles, making it hard to move about and keep my balance. As you can see in some pictures close to the fence it was a sticky mess.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Many of those protesting were former detainees, some of whom spoke at the event

The field has a fairly steep slope up from the 20ft prison fence, which does enable protesters to see over the lower 10ft of thick metal sheeting and to glimpse the women waving, shouting and holding posters at the upper floor windows inside.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Women had written messages on towels and clothing to hang out through the narrow openings.

It is tricky taking pictures through the 10 ft upper section of the fence with its thick wire grid and I don’t have the kind of long and fast lenses for this. I actually declined the invitation from the organisers to photograph the first large MfJ protest here as I knew I didn’t really have the right gear, suggesting they invite a colleague. But for later protests I decided that there were many other pictures I could take and I could at least get some kind of pictures through that fence.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Many reports have confirmed the abuses taking place inside Yarl’s Wood

Many of those at the protest were people who had been locked up inside Yarl’s Wood or other detention centres, and almost all of those who spoke had stories to tell about how their mistreatment – having been physically and sexually assaulted, locked in rooms, denied medical assistance, unable to get proper legal advice and more. Most had come to this country fleeing from violence, often from rape and in dire need of care and understanding and instead were locked up, their stories disbelieved and further subjected to hostile and inhuman treatment.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Detainees are allowed phones and some were able to speak from inside the immigration prison

At the end of the protest people let off a number of coloured flares before the long walk back to the coaches. I was rather caught in the mud and unable to get close to where this was happening. On the path and road back to the coach I tried to scrape the worst of the mud from my boots and trousers on the grass and on the kerb of the road, and found some sticks to help, but Bedfordshire mud proved extremely persistent.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Most of the speakers were former detainees and friends inside could hear them

We needed to remove our boots before getting on the coach, and fortunately I had a plastic bag to put them in for the journey, getting back into them where we were dropped off at the station. The journey home was slow but uneventful and I was exhausted and needed a good meal and a bath when I arrived – but at least unlike those detainees I was free.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood

More at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood on My London Diary, where you can also find accounts of other protests at Yarl’s Wood as well as other immigration prisons at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook using the site search.


More from May Days: 2016

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Clerkenwell Green was more packed than ever for May Day 2016, with the big attraction being a rally before the start of the march with Jeremy Corbyn as the main speaker, along with TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

While the event usually attracts little media attention, TV crews and photographers were out in force, with a crowd of photographers around the open-top bus from which he was speaking, and mobbing him as he arrived and left. The stewards became rather heated and there were some who threatened the photographers and a considerable amount of pushing from both them and the photographers. I was glad I had decided to keep well clear.

The march was much as usual, and I tried to photograph all the banners – and most of them are on My London Diary.

Having had the main speakers before the march started, the rally which followed was perhaps something of an anticlimax, though there was perhaps a wider range of speakers than usual having got the political big guns out of the way earlier. The event was enlivened by a colourful protest by Ahwazi Arabs against their repression over many years by the Iranian regime which has stolen their land and is trying to eradicate their culture.

I left for Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel, where the Bangladeshi Workers Council along with Red London, trade unionists, labour movement, political and community activists had organised a rally to commemorate and celebrate May Day.

 I met up with a small group from Class War at a pub in Aldgate and walked down with them to 1 Commercial St, the ‘Poor Doors’ tower block where the fourth in a series of anti-capitalist street parties organised by anarchists in East London was to start.

Several hundred turned up, some in fancy dress and others in black and the party got started. After partying and blocking Whitechapel High St the set off to protest elsewhere, first outside the sleazy misogynistic Jack the Ripper tourist attraction in Cable St, and then on to block Tower Bridge for a few minutes, where as well as the usual smoke flares we also get a show of fire breathing.

As they paused by the Southwark Council Offices in Tooley St I kept walking. I’d been on my feet for far too long and needed to rest on a train home. I had to take several days off before getting back to taking pictures.

F**k Parade 4: Ripper & Tower Bridge
Anti-Capitalist May Day Street Party
May Day Rally & Gonosangeet
May Day Rally
Ahwazi Protest at May Day Rally
May Day March
Day at Clerkenwell Green


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