Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Deaths in Eritrea & the UK and a Peace March 2017

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

Most embassies are in the most expensive parts of London, with a large number around Belgrave Square and others in Mayfair. Eritrea’s is in Islington and I can only recall once having been to a protest outside it. There should be more, particularly by jounalists, as Eritrea, a one-party state ruled by presient Isais Afwerki since independence in 1993, has one of the worst human rights records and, according to Reporters Without Borders, has the worst press freedom in the world. In 2001 all independent media in the country were banned and politicians and ten leading journalists were arrested and thrown into isolation without charge, without trial and without contact with the outside world. Nobody knows their whereabouts and only four were thought to be still alive in 2017.

Those still alive are still in jail and have now been held for 20 years, along with other journalists imprisoned since then. Very little is known about most of them with no official information being released, other than government denials that some have been tortured, which are widely disbelieved. They are held in jails where torture is commonplace. In December 2020, 28 Jehohova’s witnesses, some of whom had been in jail for 26 years were released, raising hopes of the families of journalists, but there have been no further releases.

On Thursday 21st September 2017 there were 12 chairs set out at the protest across the street from the Eritrean Embassy, one four each of the journalists jailed in 2001, with photographs of them all. Protesters sat on four of the chairs, representing those thought still to be alive.

I went to another protest about deaths in prisons, this time in the UK. It was called at short notice after a Chinese man in Dungavel immigration detention centre. This followed the death earlier this month at Harmondsworth detention centre of a Polish man who took his own life after the Home Office refused to release him despite the courts having granted him bail. There have been thirty-one deaths in immigration removal centres since 1989.

Britain is the only EU country which holds refugees and asylum seekers to indefinite detention, and both official reports and media investigations have criticised the conditions at these immigration prisons. The protest outside the Home Office called for an end to immigration detention, which is inhumane and makes it difficult or impossible for asylum cases to be fairly assessed.

Stop Killing Londoners blocked traffic briefly in a carefully planned operation in Trafalgar Square, which involved the simultaneous stopping of traffic at all five entrances to the road system. As in previous events, it was a token block, holding up traffic for less time than it gets halted by congestion on some busy days, and around ten minutes after it began they moved off the road, returning a few minutes later for a short ‘disco protest’, dancing on the road on the east side of the square for a few minutes until police asked them to move.

The protest was to publicise the illegal levels of air pollution in the capital which result in 9,500 premature deaths and much suffering from respiratory disease. It was one of a series of similar protests in various areas of London.

I hurried down from Trafalgar Square to Westminster Bridge, going across it just in time to meet the World Peace Day Walk as several hundred campaigners walk arrived having walked beside the Thames from Borough Market carrying white flowers. The London Peace Walk was one of a number takeing place in Barcelona, Paris and other cities around the world on World Peace Day.

The marchers wore black and walked in silence to grieve for the recent loss of precious life due to violence in all forms, including terrorist, state, corporate, domestic. They stated that there can be no peace without justice, equality and dignity for all and that “We stand together against the forces of hate and division – for peace.” At the end of their march they went onto Westminster Bridge and threw flowers and petals into the Thames.

More at:
World Peace Day Walk
Trafalgar Square blocked over pollution
No More Deaths in immigration detention
Free forgotten jailed Eritrean Journalists


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.


A Wet Day at Yarls Wood

Friday, September 10th, 2021

Five years ago Movement for Justice organised a protest outside Yarls Wood on Saturday 10th September 2016, and I took the train to Bedford where there was a coach to make the five mile or so journey to the remote site on a former WW2 airfield, now a business park. Unfortunately it is so remote that the coach driver didn’t know the way, and we ended up making a lengthy detour and arriving over half an hour later than we should have done.

The coach set us off as usual on the road outside the Twinwoods Business Park entrance, around 3/4 mile from the Immigration Removal Centre. A rally was taking place on the grass there while waiting for everyone to arrive.

Eventually we set off marching down the road to the public footpath that leads along mainly muddy tracks beside several fields to that beside the immigration prison. The prison has a 20ft high fence around it, the first 10ft with solid metal sheeting and the upper half with a thick gauze through which we could see the women at the windows welcoming and signalling to us.

The field rises up quite steeply from the fence, enabling us to see the two top floors of the nearest wing of the centre, a private prison run by Serco. Going further back the lower floor where famiilies were housed became partly visible. Those held inside are in indefinite detention, never knowing when they will be released or deported – and one woman was kept locked in there for just one day less than three years.


Many of the supporters of Movement for Justice have previously been held in this or similar detention prisons, and a number of them spoke at the protest about their experiences inside. We also heard from some of the women inside, who unlike those in our normal jails, are allowed mobile phones. Some told us how Serco security guards had prevented them from coming to the windows and were threatening those who greeted the protesters with solitary confinement.


Other groups from around the country had come to support the protest, and among them were Latin American women and Sisters Uncut, who at one point provided a display of coloured flares from the top of the hill. Unfortunately be the time I had clambered up to muddy slope to take pictures it was past its peak.


The rain continued, though fortunately it was not too heavy, but the slope towards the fence meant that some areas were waterlogged and others were slippery mud. It was a noisy protest as people shouted and kicked the fence and battered it with branches. On my way back to the coach I went to take a look at the real wood called Yarl’s Wood to the south. I’d hoped I might find another view of the prison, but was disappointed. it seemed a shame that such a peaceful wood should be mired by taking its name for this shameful immigration prison.

Many more pictures at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood on My London Diary.

Close Down Yarl’s Wood: 2015

Sunday, August 8th, 2021

I’m not sure what is happening at Yarl’s Wood now. Temporary huts were erected there to house destitute asylum seekers at the beginning of 2021, but abandoned in February by the Home Office after a legal challenge and a local and national outcry. In 2020 it’s purpose was changed from holding women to holding men, and there were reports that most of the women had been removed, but according to the Asylum Information Database there were 238 asylum seekers still held there at the end of 2020. Both Home Office and Serco web sites appear to lack any information. Six years ago today, on 8th August 2015 I attended a protest there and wrote the following report, illustrated here with just a few pictures from the many in the original My London Diary post.


Yarl’s Wood Immigration prison, Bedford. Sat 8 Aug 2015

Around a thousand protesters in a field adjoining the detention centre joined with detainees locked up in Yarl’s Wood to demand an end to immigration detention and the whole racist system which locks up migrants and asylum seekers without trial, subjecting them to abuse and sexual harassment.

Coaches came from around the country to drop protesters outside the business estate on a former aerodrome in the middle of the country around five miles from Bedford, and a coach from Bedford Station made two journeys from there to bring myself and the others who had arrived by train. Others made their journey there by taxi, car and bicycle, and a few by bus, which dropped them at the centre of a village around a mile away.

The protest was organised by Movement for Justice and there is a long list of other groups that supported it and the campaign to close detention centres, though I think there were also others present: Women for Refugee Women, Right To Remain, CheltFems, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, All African Womens Group, Refugee Support Devon, Exeter City of Sanctuary, London Palestine Action, Diásporas Criticas, South London Anti Fascists, No One Is Illegal, Jewish Socialist Group, Left Unity, CUSU Women’s Campaign, Freedom Without Fear Platform, Black Dissidents, Feminist Fightback, Women’s Association for the Guild of Students, University of Birmingham, Unite Hotel Workers Branch, Plan C, Birmingham, Leeds Feminist Network, Sisters Uncut, SOAS Unison.

The protest started next to the road at the front of the estate to give time for all the protesters to arrive, and then walked along a public bridleway which goes close to the detention centre. The protesters were allowed into a field which ran along the side of the high fence around the centre for today’s protest – at a previous protest they had pushed down fences and breached barbed wire to get to the fence.

There was a rapturous welcome from the women inside the prison, who came to the windows, shouting and waving and holding up signs. Protests like this really give the prisoners hope, and show them they have support and are not forgotten. Together, inside and out people chanted slogans ‘Shut Down Yarls Wood’, ‘Detention Centres, Shut them Down’ and more.

A small rise in the field help us see the windows on the first floor and above despite the fence, solid for around 10ft with another 10ft of mesh on top. People banged it to make a noise, kicked it, and banged it with pots and pans, and some climbed on others shoulders to lift up banners and placards so those inside could see.

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

Inside the women waved. The windows open to a small gap and one woman waved her leg though it, decorated with paper tied around. Others waved clothing and held up signs, some with slogans like those held up and shouted by the people outside. One carefully drawn one read ‘We Want Freedom – No Human Is Illegal – Close Yarls Wood’ while another simply read ‘Help’.

The organisers had mobile numbers for some of those inside – and others inside wrote theirs large and held them up in the window. We were able to hear greetings and reports from some of those inside, their voices on the phone amplified on the megaphone.

They too could hear the speeches from outside, including several by women who had been held with them inside the prison. Many are held for long periods in this and other detention centres, never knowing when they might be let out – or an attempt made to send them back to the country they were desperate to escape from.

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


Many more pictures at Close Down Yarl’s Wood.


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.


End Austerity, No to Racism, Tories Out! 2016

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Five years ago the People’s Assembly and Stand Up To Racism organised a march through London as a response to the referendum campaign conducted by many Brexit campaigners on an anti-immigration platform which had provoked an upsurge in racism and hate attacks on Black and particularly Muslim people online and on the streets of Britain.

The marchers met outside the BBC, as I wrote ” in the forlorn hope that they might for once cover a protest in Britain properly” but of course they ignored the thousands on their doorstep. Probably they were too busy giving Nigel Farage a quite disproportionate amount of publicity and air-time, along with the Labour plotters against Jeremy Corbyn – who sent a message of support to the marchers and like them showing solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers.

This banner and the placards for me summed up the message of the march, a demand for ‘Hope Not Hate’ and for people of all backgrounds to join hands in love and respect and say ‘No Racism’. We’ve recently seen a huge backlash against racist remarks against footballers in the English team showing that people across the country oppose racism, whether from the far right or Tory ministers and MPs who denigrate footballers who ‘Take the Knee’.

Later I managed to get to Parliament Square for the rally at the end of the march with speakers from many organisations, including an asylum seeker as well as politicians and activists. It was a sunny day and there was a warm and pleasant atmosphere in the large crowd listening and applauding the speakers.

I’d waited on Regent St as the march set off for some time until the last of the several thousand marchers had passed me, then hurried off to the HQ Offices of CBRE in Henrietta Place, where cleaners from the strike at 100 Wood St, managed by CBRE, had broken away from the march to stage a flash mob, along with supporters including United Voices of the World General Secretary Petros Elia and Bakers Union (BFAWU) National President Ian Hodson.

I’d arrived too late to go with them into the foyer, whose large glass doors were firmly locked when I arrived, but after a few minutes photographing through glass the doors were opened I was able to take a few more pictures as they got ready to leave. They went on to rejoin the march, but I went off to look for the English Defence League whose protest had been called to oppose that by the People’s Assembly.

I don’t like photographing extreme right-wing groups such as the EDL. It gives them publicity, which they don’t deserve as it exaggerates their importance. Generally their protests are small and their extremism represents a very small fringe of our society, though racist attitudes unfortunately are much more widespread. But rather more directly they are generally not nice people to be near. They shout and scream messages of hate, often in vile language, and routinely threaten me as I take photographs. I’ve been spat at and even, fortunately not often, grabbed, pushed and punched.

While with most protests I can move freely through the event, at these I need to keep a safe distance away. I’m usually glad that police are present, and without them I would be assaulted and my equipment smashed, but police sometimes make any photography virtually impossible. While I’d managed to cover the march I could only see brief glimpses of the rally which followed through several lines of police with several hundred of them surrounding perhaps a hundred protesters. I gave up then and took the tube to cover the anti-racist rally.

EDL march and rally
Cleaners Flash Mob at CBRE London HQ
End Austerity, No to Racism, Tories Out!


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.


Defend All Migrants

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

Five years ago on the day after the Brexit vote, Friday 24 Jun 2016, socialists and anarchists marched in London in support of migrant rights and against racism and against the attacks and scapegoating of immigrants not only by right wing extremists but by mainstream parties and media over many years. The pictures in this post are from that march. The most recent of these attacks has come from a Tory peer who has proved herself a serial failure over the years and seems likely to be rewarded for this by being put in charge of the NHS.

One of the most disturbing trends during the last eleven years of Coalition and Tory governments has been the increasing politicisation of public appointments, with jobs in charge of public bodies increasingly being awarded to people on the basis of their political views rather than any relevant experience or competence.

Of course there are many other things to be worried about, not least the many dodgy contracts awarded to family, friends and party donors, particularly those lucrative Covid-related contracts. One major benefactor has been Conservative peer Baroness Dido Harding, married to the Tory MP and United Kingdom Anti-Corruption Champion at the Cabinet Office since 2017. No, you really couldn’t make it up.

In 2015, when Harding was the much criticised CEO of TalkTalk, following a cyber-attack in which the personal and banking details of up to four million customers, many not encrypted, were though to have been stolen, Marketing Magazine ran a story under the headline “TalkTalk boss Dido Harding’s utter ignorance is a lesson to us all”. The Information Commissioner agreed, though the fine of £400,000 seems far too low for a company which she said failed “to implement the most basic cyber security measures.” Harding, who had been made a Tory Life Peer the previous year, stood down from TalkTalk in 2017 to concentrate on her public activities, following the party line on all her Lords votes and joining the board of the Jockey Club.

Her appointment as Chair of NHS Improvement in 2017 was a clearly political one, and Harding rejected the recommendation of Parliament’s Health Select Committee that she should resign as a Conservative peer and become a cross-bencher.

Her appointment to run the track, trace and test programme in 2020 (later misleadingly named NHS Test and Trace) was highly controversial. It had little or no connection with the NHS, simply outsourcing work to private contractors including Serco, Mitie, G4S, Boots and Sodexo and paying several thousand consultants from Deloitte and elsewhere on average £1,100 a day each.

Harding is now expected to be appointed as Chief Executive of the National Health Service (NHS) and has pledged to make the NHS less reliant on foreign doctors and nurses. At the moment about 1 in 7 NHS staff are not British, including many Indian, Filipino and Irish. There are many others too who while themselves British are the sons and daughters of migrants to this country, some of whom came here as health workers.

We currently have over 40,000 nursing vacancies and are heavily reliant on the contribution of foreign healthcare professionals who have made great sacrifices during the Covid pandemic. They already suffer from having to pay an immigration health surcharge fee of £470 per person per year for themselves and their families.

Nursing Notes quotes Andrew Johnson of the grassroots campaign Nurses United UK as saying:

“Dido Harding remains as incompetent as ever as she panders to her political party.”

“The UK has always benefitted from international staff. Whether it was Indian, Pakistani or Caribbean nurses like my grandma in the 50s and 60s, or our colleagues from Europe and the Philippines in more recent times, we needed them to keep our loved ones safe.”

“The NHS would not exist without international staff and if Dido wants to grow homegrown staff, we would need greater investment in our schools, a living bursary, a substantial restorative pay rise and an end to the privatisation she has been a part of.”

Nursing Notes

There are good reasons for the UK to train more doctors, nurses and other medical specialists. We are a wealthy nation and as well as caring for the health of our own population should be sending trained staff to other countries around the world, particularly those less able to train them. But as well as sending people abroad there is also much to be gained from having migrants coming to work here and foreign medical staff should be welcomed, not denigrated.

More about the 24th June 2016 Defend All Migrants rally and march.

Strangers Into Citizens 2007

Friday, May 7th, 2021

One of the great failures of British politicians in my lifetime has been over immigration. Since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham in April 1968, both major parties have engaged in a desperate contest to show they are tougher on immigration than the other.

Immigration as we moved from Empire to Commonwealth wasn’t just a moral issue of living up to the promises the country had long made to its overseas subjects – but had failed to live up to. It was also a matter of economic and social need, for workers, nurses, bus conductors, doctors and more to keep the United Kingdom running. By the 1960s, a third of junior doctors were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and in 1963 Enoch Powell, then minister of health launched a campaign which recruited a further 18,000 doctors from India and Pakistan.

Immigration controls had of course begun earlier, but the 1962 Conservative Commonwealth Immigrants Act began a new series of anti-immigration measures. Labour followed this with their 1968 Act, a panic measure to restrict the arrival here of Kenyan Asians. The 1971 Immigration Act and further legislation restricted even restricted the numbers of foreign nurses – who the NHS was and is still very reliant on.

On and on the politicians have gone, increasing the restrictions and playing the numbers game promoted by racists rather than adopting a positive approach and stressing the great advantages that immigrants have brought to this country. While in the Tory party attitudes have largely been driven by straight-forward racism and the residues of imperialism, Labour’s policies seem more cynical and solely based on middle-class electoral assumptions about working-class racism.

Of course there are working-class racists. But there is also working class solidarity that crosses any lines of race, and which could have been fostered by the Labour Party and the trade unions. Instead they have left the field largely open to the likes of the EDL and the lies of the right-wing press. In this and other ways Labour has not lost the working class, but abandoned it.

The vicious and racist policies imposed in recent years by Theresa May against migrants, particularly those here without official permission but also those with every right to be here but without a huge archive of paperwork by which to prove this – the Windrush generation have met with opposition from some mainly on the left in Labour, but they built on the policies of the New Labour government before here.

Labour have abstained rather than voted against so much discriminatory legislation, and their opposition to Priti Patel’s draconian bill which aims to criminalise Roma, Gypsy and Traveller lifestyles and increase the surveillance powers of immigration officers as well as introducing new ‘diversionary cautions’ against migrants to allow police to force them to leave the country has at best been half-hearted.

Of course there are exceptions. Honourable men and women in both parties who have argued against racist policies, and MPs who have voted with their consciences rather than follow the party line – and sometimes lost the party whip. And of course those in some of the smaller parties and outside parliament, particularly various religious leaders, some of whom took a leading role in the Strangers into Citizens March and Rally on May 7th 2007 which called for all those who have worked (and paid their taxes) here for more than four years to be given a two year work permit, after which if they get suitable work and character references they would be given indefinite leave to remain.

Although this still would not change our terrible mistreatment of those who arrive seeking asylum, it did seem a pragmatic solution to a major problem which governments have found intractable. But as the organisers of the event and many of the speakers insisted, it needed to be part of a wider package of fair treatment for those applying for asylum or immigration. But the political parties were not listening and seem only able to think of more and more restrictive, racist and authoritarian policies which drive us further into becoming a police state.

http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2007/05/may.htm


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.


Yarl’s Wood 2016

Friday, March 12th, 2021

Since it opened in 2001, Yarl’s Wood, then the largest immigration detention centre in Europe has been an active demonstration of the racist nature of the UK and its attitudes to those seeking asylum here. Yarl’s Wood was used to house refugee women and a few families and soon gained a reputation for hostile mismanagement, which led to a number of incidents including a serious fire which burnt down the building in 2002.

Things were not improved by handing the contract for running the centre to Serco in 2007 and there were a number of hunger strikes by groups of detainees over the following years, complaining about lack of medical treatment and other mistreatment including well corroborated allegations of sexual assaults by staff, many of whom were male on the women in the centre, many of whom had left their countries to seek asylum because of violence and often rape.

The first damning official report into allegations of racism, abuse and violence at the centre came in 2003, and over the years there was a steady procession of them, and in 2015 the chief inspector of prisons described Yarl’s Wood as a “place of national concern” , calling for decisive action to ensure women were only detained there as “a last resort”. In fact detention was both routine and open ended. Four out of five women held there were eventually released, and allowed to remain in the UK, and in 2018 only one in 7 of those released was deported. But the average time they were held in what is essentially a prison was over three months, and in one case a woman was only released after detention for a couple of days less than three years.

Covid brought about a huge drop in the number of women being detained, their release demonstrating that detention was always unnecessary. While at the start of 2020 there had been over 120 women detained, by August there were fewer than 20. The Home Office had been using detention both as a punishment for people coming to seek asylum and as a way to dissuade those considering coming to the UK.

The Home Office announced that Yarl’s Wood was not to close but would instead be used as a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat. It is also now again in use – though without any official announcement – for the indefinite imprisonment of around ten women asylum seekers.

The latest development came on the heels of public scandal over the use of former military barracks in poor conditions to house men seeking asylum. The Home Office announced that they were to house around 200 of them in temporary prison-style accommodation to be erected at Yarl’s Wood, using emergency powers to construct this without planning permission. After considerably outcry from campaigners including MPs and religious leaders and legal challenges the Home Office dropped the plans, saying they had sufficient capacity elsewhere.

The protest outside the immigration prison on Saturday 12 March 2018 was organised by Movement for Justice which has been one of the leading campaigns against immigration detention, mobilising many of those who have previously been held in Yarl’s Wood and the other detention centres. Getting over a thousand protesters to the remote location around 5 miles north of Bedford involved hiring coaches from cities across the country as well as a shuttle service from Bedford Station which I made use of – and whose local driver got lost on the way there. Reaching the field next to the centre then involved walking over a mile along the road and a public footpath that runs past it.

Surrounding Yarls Wood is a 20ft high fence – this is a serious prison. The first 10ft is solid metal but above that is another 10ft of wire mesh, though which, from a small hillock we could see the upper floors of one of the prison blocks. Detainees have limited freedom of movement within the centre, and some were able to come to the windows facing the field we were in and shout and wave and display hand-written messages, including some phone numbers through which a few could talk, their words relayed by a public address system MfJ had carried to the protest. A number of former asylum seekers also spoke at the protest, along with some of the organisers.

Those who have been held in this and other centres speak of feeling they are locked away and forgotten and protests such as these give them hope. MfJ and other groups also try to keep in contact with those inside and offer advice, and there are others who go into the centre weekly as visitors, ‘befrienders’ who offer emotional and practical support to a detainee.

Detaining people cuts them off from friends and communities and makes it much harder for them to make their cases for asylum – and also considerably slows the official processes involved in examining their claims. There are a very few cases where detention could possibly be justified on grounds of national security, but these apart no need to lock up the vast majority who have been held in these immigration prisons.

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


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.


Nov 9th 2019

Monday, November 9th, 2020

There is good news and bad news over the issues behind the two protests I photographed a year ago on a wet Saturday 9th November.

First the bad news: the UK has maintained its racist immigration policies which lead desperate refugees to endanger their lives to enter this country illegally. Although recent deaths among those crossing the channel have not been on the scale of the terrible deaths of the 39 Vietnamese who died in a container in Essex shortly before last year’s protest took place, the rhetoric against refugees has certainly been stepped up, with Home Secretary Priti Patel considering the use of the navy and even wave machines to sink the boats.

The death in late October of Kurdish-Iranians Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35 years old, Shiva Mohammad Panahi, 35, Anita, nine, and Armin, six when a boat carrying around 20 people sank close to the French coast was a reminder of the dangers than many face. The government’s response was to blame the criminal activities of people smugglers, but these are only in business because legitimate routes are unavailable. Our government has failed to set up proper systems for allowing asylum seekers and refugees with family connections in the UK to come here despite being urged to do so.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper called for “effective support for refugees who’ve fled persecution to stop them getting sucked into the arms of criminal gangs or making such desperate journeys”. The UK and its allies bear a great deal of the responsibility for the wars and exploitation that cause desperate people to uproot themselves from their homes and seek the safety they see at the end of their dangerous journeys.

The second event I attended was a march and protest by Chileans against state violence in Chile. On My London Diary I wrote:

Police attacks on peaceful protesters have over 20 and injured thousands since protests began in mid-October. Many have been blinded and protesters wore with a gauze pads on one eye. They call for President Piñera to go. The protests have met with human rights violations including torture, sexual abuse and rape and thousands have been arbitrarily detained.

The march halted at Parliament Square where a group of women dressed in black performed in protest against the sexual abuses, smearing fake blood on pairs of white pants which they then removed and held above their heads.

Chile’s constitution had been written under the fascist Pinochet regime; Pinochet had come to power in a military coup on 11 September 1973, and in 1980 a new constitution was produced and approved by a rigged referendum. Another referendum in 1988 voted for his removal and led in 1990 an electionwhich removed him from office, though he remained as Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army until he retired in 1998.

The brutal repression by police of protests in Chile in October 2019 recalled the terrible human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime, when around 3,000 of his political opponents were killed, and many thousands held in jail and tortured under a US-supported campaign of political repression and state terror. Sickening methods of torture were used, with a huge amount of sexual violence against women. There were notorious cases with over a hundred people being thrown out of helicopters or aircraft. Around 2% of the population were forced into exile, gaining asylum in other countries. Before he left office Pinochet passed a law giving immunity from prosecution for these human rights abuses.

Sparked off by a metro fares increase, police violence soon made last October’s protests into a call for a new constitution and led to a referendum that, delayed by Covid-19, finally took place in October 2020, with a resounding 78% vote in favour, with many Chileans turning out to vote for the first time.

More on the November 9th 2019 protests on My London Diary:
Funeral March for Chile Protesters
Remember migrants who have died.


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.


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


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.


More From May Days: 2018

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

My May Day in 2018 was rather more varied than usual, taking in several other events as well as the traditional May Day march and rally where I started as usual at Clerkenwell Green, along with the Kurdish and Turkish communists and others. Without our various migrant communities it would have been a very much smaller and less colourful event.

Rather than photograph the actual march I left a few minutes before it started to take the underground to Westminster, where the Chronic Lyme Disease Support Group UK was holding a protest to raise awareness of the hidden epidemic of the disease here. Carried by ticks, the disease is hard to diagnose and the NHS has failed to introduce proper tests and make doctors aware of its prevalence and proper treatment.

The general public need to know about the dangers and in particular to take precautions against tick bites and to be ready to remove ticks promptly and safely from their skin. I was fortunate to have met this group shortly before a holiday with friends a couple of years earlier so carried a small bent plastic tick remover for when we got bitten. If you ever walk through tall grass or woods you should have one ready.

From outside Parliament it was a short walk to the Home Office, where Movement for Justice were protesting against a planned charter flight later in the week for a mass deportation to Jamaica. This was in the middle of the Windrush scandal and the flight would include members of the Windrush generation. The Home Office, particularly under Theresa May, has been guilty of enforcing an unjust, scandalous and racist immigration policy which is still continuing.

I rushed away from the Home Office and up Whitehall to the Strand, where I was just in time to meet the May Day march from Clerkenwell Green. I was almost certainly more out of breath than the members of the Musician’s Union whose band were leading it.

The rally was, as I noted, a rather humdrum event dominated by trade union speakers which failed to represent the make-up of the march, dominated by our migrant communities.

It seemed rather curious that speakers apparently were supposed to be ‘non-political’ in their speeches because of the elections later in the week. If you can’t be political at a May Day Rally why bother?

May Day Rally

The rally was enlivened a little by the final contribution which was from a victimised union rep from the Brixton Ritzy, but by the time she spoke most had left either to go home or to the local pubs. Those left were getting ready to continue the day with a protest organised by the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain), United Voices of the World the union, staff from Picturehouse Cinemas, the Women’s Strike Assembly – UK, London Wobblies, Another Europe Is Possible, Plan C London, Labour Campaign for Free Movement and the Precarious Workers Brigade representing precarious workers, people on poverty pay and exploitative contracts whose largely unskilled work is essential to keeping society running.

They marched to protest outside a number of exploitative workplaces where disputes were currently taking place, demanding guaranteed hours of work, a living wage, the decriminalisation of sex work, an end to trade union victimisation and repeal of the anti-union laws.

After their first protest at the Ministry of Justice where cleaners are demanding a living wage, they went on to further protests at King’s College, where cleaners demand to be directly employed with proper terms of employment and a living wage.

I left the protest at King’s to join the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union CAIWU who had been celebratingd International Workers’ Day with an open-topped bus tour stopping to protest outside some of London’s most notorious employers. Their final protest of the day was at the Royal Opera House, where they were in dispute over the victimisation of five members for their trade union activities.

By now I was getting rather tired, but made a short detour on my way home taking the tube to Brixton, where an emergency demonstration outside Lambeth Town Hall before Thursday’s council elections was calling for a public inquiry into Lambeth Labour’s housing policy, an immediate halt to estate demolitions and a call to stop the privatisation via Homes for Lambeth which is leading to social cleansing.  

Lambeth Labour’s election manifesto had a proud claim that it was well on the way to “complete our ambitious programme of building 1,000 extra homes at council rent for local families“, while the actual number of council homes with with secure council tenancies built was – according to a Freedom of Information request – only 17. The protesters say that even than figure was around double the actual number.

Lambeth Housing Tell Us the Truth
CAIWU Mayday Mayhem at Royal Opera
Precarious Workers – King’s College
Precarious Workers – Ministry of Justice
May Day Rally
May Day March on the Strand
Against Deportation Charter Flights
Lyme Disease epidemic
London May Day March meets


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.

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