Posts Tagged ‘Home Office’

Peckham & Stockwell Protests – 2017

Sunday, January 21st, 2024

Peckham & Stockwell Protests – on Saturday 21st January 2017 I spent the day in South London, photographing protests in Peckham and Stockwell.


Peckham welcomes march against deportations

Peckham & Stockwell Protests - 2017

Immigration raids in south London had target long-established African, Asian and Caribbean communities, dividing families, deporting people who have built lives in the UK with parents, partners and children here. Protesters compared the deportation flights which followed with slave ships, with deportees shackled with a guard on each side in a cruel and divisive act of racist discrimination.

Peckham & Stockwell Protests - 2017

The Home Office had carried out many of these forced deportations unlawfully, and the High Court had decided that their use of the ‘detained fast track’ procedure from 2005-2014 was unlawful and went beyond their legal powers. Had we as individuals had acted illegally for so long and so persistently there would be little doubt that we would now be in prison.

Peckham & Stockwell Protests - 2017

But the government gets away scot-free. The 10,000 or so asylum seekers deported under the old system could in theory ask for the decision made on their cases to be set aside and lodge a new appeal, although very few are likely to be in a position to do so.

Peckham & Stockwell Protests - 2017

The protest was organised by Movement for Justice, but supported by many other groups including including SOAS Detainee Support (SDS), Anti Raids Network, Zimbabwe Human Rights Organization Mazimbabweans, Jewdas, BLMUK, London Mexico Solidarity, Fight Racism – Fight Imperialism (FRFI), Sisters Uncut – South East London and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants.

After a short rally the protests marched down Rye Lane, the main shopping street in Peckham, attracting a great deal of support from shoppers on the crowded street.

Some went into shops and handed out leaflets there and on the street. They held a short rally at the south end of the street before returning for another in the square by Peckham Library.

Peckham march against deportations


Oh! Mother march against knife crime – Peckham

Another protest march was taking place in Peckham during the afternoon. Oh! Mother, A Christian organisation based in South London which campaigns for change in communities was protesting to put an end to gun and knife crime.

Their march followed the stabbing to death in Peckham on 30th December 2016 of 24 year old Ernest Kalawa. Among the marchers were members of the dead man’s family, some of whom wore t-shirts commemorating him.

Oh! Mother march against knife crime


March against closing community centres – Stockwell

Members of Lambeth Labour were meeting in Stockwell to march to Stockwell Community Centre, one of two local community centres in Stockwell and Kennington Park which are run by Hyde Housing Association which were threatened with closure.

Lambeth Council is spending £50 million on a new town hall and had pledged £20 million to support the vanity Garden Bridge project, but the Labour-run council had made drastic cuts in community services, including library closures and selling off council estates to developers but has refused to support these community centres.

Lambeth Labour Council is one of a number of London Labour councils dominated by right-wing members who appear to have lost any sense that councils exist for the benefit of their residents rather than of the councillors.

Lambeth appear to follow in the footsteps of neighbouring Southwark, here journalist Anna Minton found that “20 per cent of Southwark’s 63 councillors work as lobbyists” for developers in the planning industry and that a significant number of Councillors and Council officers are making use of a ‘well-oiled revolving door’ to the industry.

March against closing community centres



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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.


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.


Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

Sunday, June 4th, 2023

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage: Tuesday 4th June 2013 saw quite a mixture of protests around Westminster with a regular daily protest during the Parliamentary session calling for the return of Shake Aamer and in solidarity with Guantanamo hunger strikers, a protest at the Home Office against the deportation of gay asylum seekers to Uganda, at the Ministry of Justice against privatisation of legal aid and protesters for and against outside the House of Lords were debating the gay marriage bill.


Bring Shaker Aamer Home Vigil – Parliament Square

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

Protesters were keeping up their daily vigil opposite the Houses of Parliament to remind MPs that British resident Shaker Aamer was still held in Guantanamo despite being cleared twice for release. They called on the UK government to urge President Obama to release him and close down the illegal prison camp.

The Guantanamo hunger strike was now putting the lives of the hunger strikers in danger, with over 40 of more than a hundred taking part now being forcibly fed, including ‘prisoner 239’, Shaker Aamer from Battersea.

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

Although today the daily protest was small it drew attention to itself with large bright orange banners and those taking part all in black hoods and orange jumpsuits, and one wearing ‘chains’ around hands and feet.

Bring Shaker Aamer Home Vigil


Stop Deporting Lesbians to Uganda – Home Office, Marsham St

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

A few days ago on 30th May 2023, Uganda’s President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act which is said to be among the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in the world. It imposes the death penalty for some so-called aggravated cases and largely repeats a similar 2014 law which was declared unconstitutional by Uganda’s constitutional court.

Uganda was a British protectorate from 1894 to 1962 and inherited anti-gay laws from colonial penal code, which have been widened since independence. Wikipedia puts it clearly “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Uganda face severe legal challenges, active discrimination, state persecution and stigmatisation not experienced by non-LGBT residents.” It goes on to state “Violent and brutal attacks against LGBT people are common, often performed by state officials.

Despite the dangers the Home Office was continuing to deport gay people who had fled Uganda because of the danger and often violence they had suffered because of their sexuality back to where they faced persecution and probably death.

Shaker, Uganda, Legal Aid & Gay Marriage

The protest came after lesbian Jackie Nanyonjo died following injuries inflicted on her during her forced deportation by thugs contracted to the UKBA in March, and a day before flights were due to return ‘Linda N’ on Qatar Airways and ‘Josephine’ by Royal Air Maroc.


Linda N, a known lesbian activist and member of the Movement for Justice was dealt with under a ‘fast track’ procedure designed to prevent proper consideration of cases, and despite a great deal of evidence was told she had not done enough to prove that she was gay. Josephine, a woman aged 62 with family in the UK, came here for sanctuary after refusing to carry out female genital mutilation (FGM). If returned she will be subjected to punishment beatings for her refusal and possibly killed.

The protesters called for an end to racist immigration policies and the release of these women and others held in Yarls Wood and an end to deportations still taking place to Uganda and other unsafe countries including Afghanistan.

Stop Deporting Lesbians to Uganda


Save Legal Aid & British Justice – Ministry of Justice, Petty France

Around a thousand people including many lawyers and other campaigners for justice blocked the road in front of the Ministry of Justice for a lengthy rally against proposed changes to the legal aid system which would mean that instead of people being defended by lawyers with the relevant expertise they would be assigned to the company who had made the cheapest bid. Large companies with little legal connection including Eddie Stobart and Tesco were expected to bid for the work, putting the many small specialist law firms which currently exist out of business.

As speakers pointed out these changes threaten the very heart of our legal system, severely reducing the chances of those who are not rich to get justice.

The changes were being proposed without proper consultation and regulations to bring them were tocome into effect within 3 months, without any pilot scheme, without an debate in the Houses of Parliament and with no proper examination of the evidence.

Among the speakers were several QCs, including Dinah Rose, Geoffrey Robertson and Michael Fordham, representatives of human rights organisations and charities, MPs David Lammy, Jeremy Corbyn, shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter and Bianca Jagger.

Many more pictures including those of most of the speakers at Save Legal Aid & British Justice.


For and against Gay Marriage – Old Palace Yard

Two groups of protesters were in Old Palace Yard. Stonewall had come with posters, t-shirts and vuvuzelas along with other LGBT protesters including Peter Tatchell and there were others including one in drag waving a rainbow flag.

A short distance to the side were a similar sized group organised by Christian Concern, an evangelical organisation who prayed and sang, murdering ‘Amazing Grace’ several times while I was there. At there centre were a black couple dressed as a bride and groom standing on a base resembling a wedding cake.

As well as these two groups which carefully avoided any direct conflict – one woman from ‘Christian Concern’ who came and began to tell the LGBT protesters that she was praying for them was quickly dragged away by one of their organisers – there were also a number of religious extremists also wandering around the area and protesting much of the day, some holding up large print posters of Bible texts, others standing still and preaching – though as I pointed out there there seemed to be nobody listening to their amplified sermonising.

I think the real debate is not about marriage but about having an established church which has made marriage both a civil and a religious contract. The law should clearly separate the two and religious bodies can now outside the established church do so should they chose. Some Christians would have no problems with having religious ceremonies for gay marriages, but others would not be forced to do so.

My elder son and his bride had two ceremonies some weeks apart, one a religious one with an Imam officiating and the other, some weeks later, with an official registrar present. Marriage law is essentially about the civil contract and I can see no reason against this applying to any couple whatever their genders – nor did the House of Lords.

More pictures at For and against Gay Marriage.


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.


March 8th – Women Strike And Protest

Wednesday, March 8th, 2023

March 8th – Women Strike And Protest. Last year on International Women’s Day I published a long post, International Women’s Day Marches with images from my coverage of them from 2002 until 2020. This year I look back five years to Thursday 8th March 2018 when I covered a wide range of protests, most of which were linked to International Women’s Day


Shut Guantanamo at new US Embassy – US Embassy, Nine Elms

This was the first protest outside the new US Embassy where they intend to continue the regular monthly protests which they have had outside the old embassy in Grosvenor Square since 2007 until the illegal and immoral US prison camp is shut down and all the prisoners released.

Normally these protests take place on the first Thursday of every month, but in March 2018 the protest scheduled for March 1st was postponed for a week because of snow. Because of the change of date some regular protesters were unable to attend and the protest started a little later than usual as some had problems finding the new location. This was the only event not connected with International Women’s Day I covered on the day.

In March 2018, 41 prisoners remained held at Guantanamo. There was no evidence against most of those held and tortured there that would stand up in any court of law, often simply a matter of suspicion or hearsay or desperate statements made under extreme torture. Many were simply foreigners in the region seized to gain cash rewards from the US forces.

Shut Guantanamo at new US Embassy


Family Courts put on Trial – Old Palace Yard

March 8th - Women Strike And Protest

Global Women’s Strike had organised a mock trial of the UK Family Courts in an International Women’s Day protest in front of Parliament.

March 8th - Women Strike And Protest

Among those who spoke were mothers whose children had been unjustly taken away, and statements from others were also read out, along with some shocking comments made in court by judges.

The UK has the highest rate of adoptions in Europe, almost all without consent of their birth family. Families of colour, immigrants and disabled are all disproportionately affected and in some working class areas 50% of children are referred to social services.

Poverty, often the result of benefit cuts and sanctions and poor housing conditions especially in temporary accommodation is often mistaken for neglect and the help mandated under the 1989 Childrens Act is seldom available. Children are often simply taken into care and then put up for adoption even though they have mothers or grandmothers who are capable of good parenting and only need support.

The campaigners say that victims of domestic abuse are often accused of ‘failing to protect’ their children and vague charges such as putting children at risk of future emotional harm and neglect are used by the secret courts to remove children from mothers and grandmothers. They want hearings with proper public scrutiny and an end to the gagging of mothers and familys, a great use of kinship carers and the proper implementation of the 1989 Children Act, and the Care Act 2014 which entitles disabled mothers to extra help.

Parliamentary officer Black Rod sent police to try to shut down the protest, but the organisers showed them documents to say they had permission for the protest and to use a megaphone. They seemed puzzled but left.

Family Courts put on Trial


London Women’s Strike – Russell Square

This was the big event of the day and included speeches about a wide range of causes. As the organisers said the “Women’s Strike is a strike for solidarity between women – women of colour, indigenous, working class, disabled, migrant, Muslim, lesbian, queer and trans women” and “is about realising the power we already hold – activating and nourishing resistance.

Many of the women present went on to other protests elsewhere including several protests in support of cleaners at the TopShop and The Royal Opera in Covent Garden, and cinema workers at Picturehouse, calling for an end to immigration detention an in solidarity with the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers, for Unilever to withdraw its investment in Myanmar where its presence supports a government that has brutally raped, tortured and killed many Rohingya, and supporting sex workers by calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution and I also went to cover some of these

Much more about this event on My London Diary: London Women’s Strike.


Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers – Home Office

At the Home Office protesters showed solidarity with those held in Yarl’s Wood on International Women’s Day, in particular with those who had began a hunger strike 15 days ago against their imprisonment and the conditions and treatment by the detention centre staff and the Home Office.

Since then the strike has gathered momentum and escalated into an all-out strike: work strikes, occupations, and a general refusal to cooperate, and long lists of the detainees demands have been published by Detained Voices.

More at Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood.


Reinstate the Royal Opera House 6 – Royal Opera, Covent Garden

Six members of grassroots independent workers union CAIWU were fired by cleaning services company Kier for their jobs at the Royal Opera House, another disciplined and a sixth was on final written warning. They were clearly being victimised folloing successful trade union action which had forced Kier to pay its workers there the London Living Wage.

The large and loud action with union members augmented by women from the Women’s Strike blocked Drury Lane for some minutes. Police arrived, talked to the protesters and then went inside to talk to the managers inside before emerging, carefully removing poster and fliers the protesters had left on their car before driving off. The protesters later moved back into Covent Garden Market leaving the road free.

More at Reinstate the Royal Opera House 6.


& Myanmar’s Rohingya genocide – Unilever House

Women from the Women’s Strike called on Unilever to disinvest from Myanmar where they have a $667 million investment.

The military government there are committing systematic rape and other torture with total impunity as part of their genocide against the Rohingya people. Unilever claims, especially in its marketing for Dove products to respect the dignity and rights of women and girls and says it “aims to improve safety for women and girls in the communities where they operate.”

More at Unilever & Myanmar’s Rohingya genocide.


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.


Free Education and Welcome Home Shaker

Friday, November 4th, 2022

Free Education – No Barriers, Borders or Business – Wed 4 Nov 2015

I and many others in my generation and class were the first in their families to gain a university education, enabled to do so by maintenance grants. I got a full grant as my family earnings were under the limit where financial contributions were required. There were then no fees for university courses and I left university penniless (well almost – my total wealth was actually £5 8/6d in the post office bank) but with no debts, taking up a job at a salary more than my father had ever earned.

Fortunate too were my two sons, who both just managed to enter higher education when grants were still available (though I was then earning enough to have to pay a relatively trivial sum to make up their maintenance grants) and there were still no fees for UK students.

Now in 2022, the typical student leaves university in England with a debt of £45,000 and if my wife and I took the same courses as we did in the 1960s our combined debt would be in excess of £100,000. Of course we have had rather a lot of inflation since then, so this would equate to around £5,000. It would have seemed an unimaginable sum to me at the time, and I would certainly have gone out to work rather than continuing my studies.

As well as the fees, the students were also protesting at other changes in particular the way that education has become a market-led system, no longer led by knowledge and curiosity but by returns on investment with many courses in what are seen as unproductive areas being cut and research increasingly limited to topics which can be financially exploited.

Of course universities back in the 60s were not entirely ivory towers. Back in the 1940s they played an important part in the war effort, and one of my lecturers told us how his desk back then was made of planks across between two stacks of high explosive as he studied ways to improve the effectiveness of explosions. My own research, though driven by an unlikely theoretical hypothesis (which it demolished) was funded – as I only found out later – by a notorious US chemical company who had clearly been persuaded by my professor that it could be of considerable use to them (it wasn’t.) But he was a great con-artist.

I have mixed feelings about my university education. I was taught by people who were leading researchers in their fields but in the main had little idea about how to teach, and sometimes made it clear they were not really engaged with the task. Now much teaching seems to be done by graduate students on zero hours contracts who are equally unprepared for the job, though I think may well do it better.

The protest met in Malet St, outside the former University of London Union, shut down by the University management for its political activities – including support of protests by low paid workers who perform essential duties such as cooking, cleaning, portering and security in the university, and replaced by management-run Student Central – and this in turn closed by the university in 2021.

The rally there had a number of speeches by student leaders, staff supporters and others including Shadow Chancellor John McDonald and Antonia Bright of Movement for Justice. As well as the issues of student fees and loans and university issues, they also called for an end to borders and the scapegoating of immigrants.

As the rally ended the march was augmented by around a hundred black clad and masked students in an autonomous bloc at the rear, led by a ‘book bloc’, a line of protesters with large polystyrene padded posters with the names of left wing and anarchist classic books on them or slogans such as ‘Rise, Riot, Revolt.

Free Education – No Barriers, Borders or Business

Students at Home Office and BIS – Westminster, London, Wed 4 Nov 2015

After reaching Parliament Square the student march continued to the Home Office, where I caught up with them after pausing to photograph another event. By the time I got there the air was full of coloured smoke and there were a large number of police around it.

Soon the students marched off, with the black block and its large police escort soon following them on to the Dept of Business, Innovation & Science, now responsible for the universities which are no longer seen by government as a part of education.

The students were standing around in the road in front of the building and I was wandering through the crowd taking pictures when I heard a loud roar and turned around to see the black bloc charging the line of police in an attempt to enter the Deptartment.

The charge lacked conviction with most behind the front couple of rows standing back and watching as the police stopped the charge. Soon more police arrived and the black bloc were pushed forcibly back, with several photographers and bystanders being grabbed by the police.

The protesters tried to move away down Victoria St, but were stopped by more police, who moved in, preventing those who had remained peaceful from moving away. The students were now kettled and I decided I’d had enough and tried to leave the protest, showing my press card. At first police refused to let me through the line, but after a while I found an officer who let me through and walked away down a side road. As I did so heard a lot of noise as the students swept through the police line and ran along the street. But I was tired and went home.

Students at Home Office and BIS


‘Welcome Home Shaker’ celebration – Parliament Square, London. Wed 4 Nov 2015

Earlier as the student march had moved through Parliament Square I had stopped briefly to talk with campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign who had mounted a weekly vigil for his release opposite Parliament every Wednesday when Parliament was sitting.

Today they had come to celebrate the news of his release from Guantanamo and were holding signs saying ‘Welcome Home Shaker AAmer’ and ‘Free At Last’. He had been taken there after torture in Afghanistan, arriving on 14 February 2002 and was released and flown to Britain on 30 October 2015. He continued to be held and regularly tortured there despite the US government having acknowledged it had no evidence against him and clearing him for transfer in 2007.

‘Welcome Home Shaker’ celebration


Gender-based Violence, Arming Israel, Trans Pride, Anti Racism

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

Protests in London three years ago today on Saturday 14th September 2019 all with some connection to human rights violations.


Criminal Abuse of Women in South Africa – Trafalgar Square

People, mainly women and including many South Africans, dressed in black to protest in Trafalgar Square following the rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana and many other women in South Africa.

Protests were taking place across South Africa calling for the government to declare a state of emergency over gender based violence, and to protest against gender-based violence across the world.

After speeches and silences on the North Terrace they moved to light candles for the victims at the entrance to South Africa House.

Criminal Abuse of Women in South Africa


HSBC Stop Arming Israel – Oxford St

Protesters led by Young London Palestine Solidarity Campaign took part in a National Day of Action outside the Oxford St branch of the HSBC Bank calling on it to stop its support of military and technology companies that sell weapons and equipment to Israel to be used against Palestinians. The bank had closed for the protest.

Although HSBC had divested from Israel’s largest private weapons company, it still owned shares in Caterpillar whose bulldozers are used to destroy Palestinian homes and construct illegal apartheid settlements, BAE Systems whose fighter jets attack Gaza and Raytheon which suppliers the ‘bunker buster’ bombs used to target Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Stop Arming Israel HSBC Protest


London’s First Trans+ Pride March

People met at Hyde Park Corner for this first march in the city to celebrate trans, non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals and to protest against the continuing discrimination here and around the world against them.

As well as many from the trans+ community there were family, friends and other supporters taking part in an event which aimed to increase the visibility of trans+ people.

Recent years have seen an increasing transphobia in the British media with considerably publicity being given to the views of anti-trans activists. There has been an increase in attacks attacks on trans people on the streets, hate speech by trans-exclusionary feminists, and by right-wing national and state governments around the world.

Too often trans+ people around the world are subject to human rights abuses. They have always been an integral part of the gay community and at the forefront of the fight for gay rights – from the Stonewall rebellion on.

There were a few short speeches before the march set off, going along Piccadilly to a rally in Soho Square. I marched with them as far as Green Park where I caught the Underground for a protest in Brixton.

London’s First Trans+ Pride March


Brixton Anti-Racist March

Movement for Justice and Lambeth Unison Black Workers’ Group were protesting in Brixton against the continuing persecution of Windrush family members and other migrants, calling for freedom of movement, the closure of immigration detention prisons, and an end to Brexit which they see being used to whip up immigrant-bashing and nationalism by Boris Johnson.

The event began in Windrush Square, where one of the speakers was Eulalee Pennant, a Jamaican great-grandmother who has been fighting the Home Office for 16 years against deportation. Here uncle was one of the Windrush generation, her grandfather had served in the UK armed forces for his working life, and her cousins, daughter, grandchildren and great-grandson were British. She had worked and paid tax here for many years but was detained days before her 60th birthday and locked up in Yarls Wood, where she contracted a serious stomach infection. She was still vomiting blood when the Home Office tried to put her on a deportation flight.

Eulalee had tried to regularise her and her son’s immigration status with the Home Office in 2003, and among the documents she sent was her passport. The Home Office kept claiming they did not have it, and it was only in court 15 years later they finally admitted they had failed to send in back. Her son spent five years fighting his case to stay in the UK but was deported to Jamaica in 2008, and was murdered there the following June. Her fight against deportation has cost many thousands in legal fees and she has been unable to work since 2003.

There had been relatively few at the gathering in Windrush Square but there was a larger audience when the group marched to Brixton Market to continue the protest there and Green MEP for London Scott Ainslie also came to speak about his LDNlovesEU campaign.

The group then set off to march noisily around central Brixton, returning to Windrush Square for some final speeches.

Brixton anti-racist march


Don’t Deport London Met Students – 2012

Monday, September 5th, 2022

A protest at the Home Office on Wednesday 5th September 2012 called for international students at London Met University to be allowed to complete their studies and not face deportation after having invested heavily in getting a degree in the UK. Some then marched to Downing St.

The decision to revoke London Met University’s licence to sponsor non-EU students taken on 29 August 2012 taken by the UK Border Agency was an example of petty-minded racism by the Home Office at its worst. It was made after a limited investigation had found that some students studying there had no leave to remain in the UK.

It was a totally disproportionate reaction to the findings, which should have been dealt with on an individual basis and with discussions over the procedures in place at the university tightening them where necessary. But Home Secretary Theresa May had declared a ‘hostile environment’ three months earlier and this was something to show the public that she meant business.

It was a decision which caused unnecessary disruption and costs to the majority of international students who were legitimately pursuing their studies at the university and which seriously damaged the UK’s reputation as a country for students to come from abroad to study.

The licence was reinstated the following April, following further discussions and inspections at London Met, though they were only allowed to admit new students from abroad on a limited scale for the next 12 months. The actions taken by the Home Office could clearly have been taken without penalising students who were studying on courses at the university, and served to emphasise the callous disregard of the revocation.

Universities Minister David Willis had clearly also been embarrassed by the Home Office decision, setting up a task force to provide a clearing house for the displaced London Met students, and two weeks after the revocation the government launched a £2 million fund to “help legitimate students to meet additional costs they may incur by moving to another institution to finish their studies. These include: covering the cost of any fee for a repeat visa application and discretionary payments to cover, for example, lost deposits on accommodation due to having to move somewhere else to study.”

I’m not sure how adequately this fund recompensed students for their extra costs, but clearly they were subjected to considerable disruption in their studies and also in their personal lives, breaking the many relationships they will have had with fellow students and tutors, and being transferred onto courses with different approaches and areas of study. Even courses with the same titles will have significant differences and students may well find they were repeating some studies already made while missing out on others.

Students march to Downing St

The UK Border Agency had long been criticised for its actions and poor service, with an increasing number of complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman over asylum, residence status and immigration issue – and in 2009-10 all but 3% were decided in favour of the complainants. In 2013 a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee was so damning about its incompetence that Home Secretary Theresa May was forced to abolish it, replacing the agency by three new organisations, UK Visas and Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force.

You can read more about the protest and see more pictures on My London Diary:
Don’t Deport London Met Students