Posts Tagged ‘immigration detention’

End Indefinite Detention, Don’t Sack Cleaners

Saturday, May 7th, 2022

End Indefinite Detention, Don’t Sack Cleaners – two protests I photographed on Saturday 7th May 2016, one on the edge of London and the other in the centre.


Detention Centres Shut Them Down – Harmondsworth, Saturday 7th May 2016

Mostly protests begin later than expected and I was surprised when I arrived at Europe’s largest detention centre complex at Heathrow, two Category B prisons, Colnbrook & Harmondsworth, managed by private security company MITIE to find that the action organised by the Anti Raids Network as a part of a day of action at all UK detention centres had already begun.

Most of the protesters had come out to the protest on the west edge of Greater London from the centre and had apparently got there earlier than they expected and had immediately rushed past the few security guards onto the private roadway between the two prisons to communicate with the detainees who had gathered around the windows of the two blocks behind their 20 ft high fences. I’d photographed earlier protests here where the protesters had walked noisily around the Harmondsworth block (strangely on the Colnbrook side of the complex) on the rough track around the fence, but the centre was now under new management and MITIE were determined to keep them further away.

As I arrived and talked with the small group who had remained at the entrance those inside appeared at the far end of the road, being slowly moved out by the police reinforcements who had arrived shortly before me, and I followed protesters down the road to join them.

As well as making a lot of noise with pots and pans, megaphones and kicking the solid metal bottom of the fence, the protesters also held up a large banner with a phone number so that the detainees could contact them and tell them what was happening inside. At first the police made slow progress in moving them along, but soon another police van arrived with more officers and they were able to move them quickly to the front of the complex.

After regrouping there, most decided to walk along to the public footpath that runs along the east edge of the centre. Although bushes and small trees in front of the fence made the centre almost invisible, it was easy to hear the detainees shouting from inside and for them to hear the protest. Soon phone contact was made with some of them and they were able to speak over a megaphone. As I wrote back in 2016:

“Bashir from Lebanon told us he had been held in detention for 18 months and that his wife and children need his help, but he is stuck inside, unable to see them or do anything. Indefinite detention such as this seems a clear breach of so many of the human rights that everyone in the UK should be entitled to under our Human Rights Act 1998. Treating people like our system does is simply shameful.”

Detention Centres Shut Them Down – where there is more about the protest.

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre – Barbican, London, Saturday 7th May 2016

I left to make my way to central London where Cleaners union United Voices of the World were holding a flashmob at the Barbican Centre after cleaning contractor Servest proposed making many of the cleaners redundant or severely cutting their hours and pay. As well as the UVW, the action was supported by activists from the Bakers Union, Class War, SOAS Unison, Unite Hotel workers branch and IWGB Couriers branch.

I met the cleaners close to Moorgate Station and walked with them towards the Barbican, where they burst into a run as they turned a corner and rushed into the main entrance, past a couple of security guards who had no chance of stopping the unexpected arrival. They made there way to the middle of the arts centre, to protest noisily outside the hall where customers were entering a sold-out concert of music by Yann Tiersen.

After a few minutes police arrived and told the protesters they must leave or be arrested, and after some argument they slowly and noisily made their way back towards the main entrance, with police continuing to harass them.

They continued to protest on the street outside the main entrance, and the protest was still continuing there when I left for home.

More on My London Diary at Cleaners invade Barbican Centre.


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Yarls Wood – Shut It Down

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

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


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Snow, Pensions & Jobs, Hunger Strikers – 2018

Monday, February 28th, 2022

Snow, Pensions & Jobs, Hunger Strikers – 2018. On Wednesday 28th February 2018 there was a blizzard in London. University and FE teachers marched through it to a rally about pay and pensions and people came to the Home Office to support hunger strikers in the immigration prison at Yarl’s Wood.

London Snow

The snow slacked off a little when I was on the bus but got worse as I walked to Malet St for the start of a march. Most of the pictures I tried to take were ruined by snow flakes landing on the front of the lens faster than I could wipe them off.

London Snow

HE and FE march for pensions and jobs

UCU members were on the the fifth day of their strike to get the universities to talk with them about pensions and pay, and marched from Malet St to Methodist Central Hall close to Parliament for a rally.

They were joined by staff from London FE colleges on the first day of a two-day strike over pay and conditions, and both groups were supported by large numbers of students. The snow made it difficult to take pictures, and at times it was hard to stop from slipping over on compacted snow. Fortunately it eased off a little after the march started, with just occasional showers as we walked through London.

HE and FE march for pensions and jobs

HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs

Sally Hunt of UCU speaks and Kevin Courtney NEU listens at right

Despite the terrible weather there were more marchers than expected and many were left outside the hall. I don’t usually bother to photograph at indoor rallies and haven’t really got the best equipment for it, but on this occasion I was glad to be able to get inside and warm up a little. My camera lenses were also getting a little steamed up and needed to dry out.

Frances O’Grady praises the way that Sally Hunt and the UCU are fighting to keep the pension scheme

I’ve written more about the reasons for the strikes and a little about the rally on My London Diary and won’t repeat that here. Click the link to find more.

HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs


Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers

I stayed longer inside the rally than intended, partly because I was reluctant to leave t he warm hall, but as it came to an end I left to walk to the Home Office, where a protest was taking place in solidarity with the 120 women and men in immigration detention at Yarl’s Wood who were refusing to work and had gone on a hunger strike.

Their action in Yarl’s Wood had started a week earlier and was demanding the Home Office respect the European Convention of Human Rights, end the separation of families, end indefinite detention, with a 28 day maximum detention period, end charter flights which deport people without notice, and end to re-detention of those released from detention.

The also called for an amnesty for those who have been in the country for over 10 years, a stop to deportations before cases are decided and any appeals heard, the proper disclosure of all evidence to the immigration tribunals, adequate health care, an end to detaining of highly vulnerable people, an end to employment at £1 per hour and to be treated with the dignity and respect due to all human beings.

It was a fairly large protest, supported by many groups including Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, Detained Voices, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, All African Women’s Group, The London Latinxs, Right to Remain, Docs Not Cops and End Deportations as well as Movement for Justice who have organised many protests outside Yarl’s Wood as well as those at other detention centres and led campaigns to close detention centres and support detainees.

Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers


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Flowers to Yarls Wood – 2017

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

Four years ago on Saturday 18th November saw Movement for Justice’s 12th protest outside the immigration detention prison up a hill around 6 miles north of Bedford, calling for this and the other immigration detention centres to be shut down. On this occasion many took flowers to pin to the upper section of the fence where they could be seen by the women inside.

The whole system of immigration detention seems to have been designed as a deterrent to asylum seekers coming to the UK, though unsuccesful in doing so. People who had fled their countries because they were in fear of their lives and had often been subject to violent attacks and rapes were thrown into jail while there cases were being considered. Often their imprisonment made it very much harder for them to provide the evidence demanded by the Home Office of the danger they had been in and their suffering, and official reports and journalistic investigations, some by reporters who had taken jobs at the centres, both revealed the callous and often illegal treatment they received from the staff in these privately run centres, including sexual assaults and violence.

Mabel Gawanas who was held inside for a day under 3 years speaks to her friends still inside

The accomodation provided is poor and the food is of poor quality and often fails to meet the relgious ordietary needs of the detainees, and there have been numerous reported cases where necessary medical treatment has been either refused or excessively delayed. But the major problem is that immigration detention is of indeterminate length, with some detainees serving perhaps a few weeks and others up to three years. Unlike in a normal jail there is no known length to the time people serve and no way that they know when they may be released or deported. And there is no process for them to appeal their detention. The government like to pretend it isn’t a prison, and there are some differences in the routines, but those held inside cannot leave and are often restricted in their movements inside the buildings.

The windows only open a few inches

There are currently in 2021 seven ‘Immigration Removal Centres’ in the UK as well as a number of short-term holding facililites. All but one of the seven are run by private companies, Serco, Mitie, G4S, a Capita subsidiary and Geo, and they are run to make profits. The less they spend on food, staffing and facilities the more the companies make – and the more those detained suffer. In 2015 the Chief Inspector of Prisons labelled it ‘a place of national concern’.

Yarl’s Wood is in an isolated location, hidden away from roads on a former wartime airfield. As I found cycling from Bedford Station it is on the top of a hill and rather windswept. From where the protesters coaches and cars can park it takes aroud a mile walking along public footpaths to get to the field next to the prison where the protests take place. The prison is surrounded by a 20 ft high metal fence, the lower half with metal panels and the upper half with a thick wire grid material that allows the upper storeys of the building to be seen from the top of a rise in the field.

It’s difficult to take pictures through this screen, but not impossible. I’d taken with me a Nikon 70-300mm lens and was working with the D810 in DX mode which converts that into a 105-450mm equivalent and still provides a 16Mp file. Focussing was tricky as the autofocus was very good at focussing on the wire, leaving the building behind well out of focus, and although it would sometimes focus on a window frame, it was far easier to use manual focus.

I also took some pictures on a 28-200mm (equivalent to 42-300mm) which was better when I wanted to include any foreground detail, but the windows became rather small. Even at 450mm any one of the pair of windows only filled around a sixth of the frame, and some of the images have been cropped.

For photographing the protesters as well as that highly versatile 28-200mm used both as a X lens on the D810 body and a full-frame lens on the D750, I also had a 28-35mm lens for use on the D750.

Many of the exposures I made where not quite sharp. It was November and the light dropped off fairly dramatically towards the end of the protest and by 3pm I was having to work at 1/250s at the full aperture of F5.6, not really fast enough a shutter speed for a 450mm lens. So camera shake added to my focus problems. At 3.30pm the protest seemed to be nearing its end, I was getting too cold and decided it was time to get on my bike and return to Bedford Station. Fortunately except for a short steep slope it was more or less downhill all the way.

In August 2020 the Home Office announced it was ‘re-purposing’ Yarl’s Wood, which became a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat. But by November 2020 it had also been brought back into its previous use with around ten women then being indefinitely detained there.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 12


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11 October 2008

Monday, October 11th, 2021

It was the start of the final 100 days of the Bush adminstration and the ‘Hands off Iraqi Oil’ coalition whose members included Corporate Watch, Iraq Occupation Focus, Jubilee Iraq, PLATFORM, Voices UK, and War on Want and was supported by the Stop the War Coalition and others had come to Shell’s UK headquarters at Waterloo to protest against plans by Britain and the USA for Iraq to hand over most of the country’s oil reserves to foreign companies, particularly Shell and BP.

Iraq had nationalised its oil by 1972, and it provided 95% of its government income. Many had seen the invasion of Iraq by the US and UK (along with Australia and Poland) as largely driven by the desire to gain control of Iraq’s huge oil reserves and the US had engaged consultants to help it write a new oil law which it got the Iraqi cabinet to approive in 2007 which would give foreign oil companies – including Shell and BP, long-term contracts within a safe legal framework. But large-scale popular opposition meant the Iraqi parliament failed to approve the new law. But in June 2008, the Iraqi Oil Ministry went ahead with short-term no-bid contracts to the major foreign oil companies – including Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Total and Chevron and later these and other contracts were made more favourable to the oil companies.

After the protest at Shell’s offices the protesters marched to protest outside the BP HQ in St James’s Square and then to the US Embassy, and I left to cover the London Freedom not fear 2008 event outside New Scotland Yard. Similar protests were taking place in over 20 countries to demonstrate against excessive surveillance by governments and businesses, organised by a broad movement of campaigners and organizations.

The London event highlighted the restrictions of the right to demonstrate under the Labour government’s The Serious Organized Crime and Police Act 2005, (SOCPA),, the intimidatory use of photography by police Forward Intelligence squads (FIT), the proposed introduction of ID cards, the increasing centralisation of personal data held by government, including the DNA database held by police, the incredible growth in surveillance cameras, ‘terrorist’ legislation and other measures which have affected our individual freedom and human rights.

For something completely different I walked a quarter of a mile down Victoria Street to Westminster Cathedral where people were assembling for the Rosary Crusade of Reparation, one of the larger walks of public witness by Catholics in London.

This tradition began in Austria in 1947 with the roasary campaign begun by a priest praying for his country to be freed from the communist occupiers. The first annual parade with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima took place in 1948 in Vienna on the feast of the Name of Mary, Sept 12, which had been established by Pope Innocent XI in 1683 when Turkish invaders surrounding Vienna were defeated by Christian armies who had prayed to the Blessed Virgin.

As the procession to a service at Brompton Oratory began I walked back up Victoria St to Parliament Square, where a number of other small protests were in evidence. All over the centre of London there were people giving out leaflets about the growing problems faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka, where they allege a program of ethnic cleansing is being carried out by the government. International media are banned from the Tamil areas of the country and NGOs have been ordered out of some areas, so there are few reports of the war. Worse was to come and in 2009 in the final stages of the war conservative estimates are that 70,000 civilians were killed in the the Mullivaikkal massacre.

Others in the square were protesting against the UK’s scandalous treatment of asylum seekers and calling for the asylum detention centres to be closed down.

Brian Haw was still there, and I wrote:

Facing Parliament, Brian Haw‘s peace protest continues – he has been there for almost 2700 days – over 7 years – and it will soon be his 60th birthday. Brian says that now the police seem to have largely abandoned attempts to get rid of him legally there have been a number of odd attacks against him and others in the square – which the police have ignored. I took some time talking to a man who smelt of alcohol, was talking nonsense and acting unpredictably – and who then went and started to insult Brian. One of the other demonstrators stood between him and Brian who was filming him. I put down my bag as I took photographs in case I needed to step in and help, but fortunately he eventually moved away.

There were others protesting in Parliament Square, including one man who asked me to take his picture. He told me his name was Danny and that he had been there on hunger strike for two weeks, protesting over his failure to get his case investigated. He claimed to have been abused by police and social services following an incident in which as a seven year old child in Llanelli he was implicated in the death of a baby brother. I was unable to find any more information about his case.

Finally I saw a group of people walking past holding leafelts with the the word CHANGE on them and rushed after them to find they were Obama supporters hoping to persuade Americans they met to register and vote in the election. It was time for me to go home.

Parliament Square
Rosary Crusade of Reparation
Freedom not Fear 2008
Bush & Cheney’s Iraq Oil Grab


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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


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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.


Immigration Detention – a National Shame

Monday, June 7th, 2021

Detainees seen through the wire fence, Harmondsworth Detention Centre, Sat 7 Jun 2014

Recently the Home Office under Priti Patel got its knuckles rapped in court, when the High Court ruled it broke the law by housing cross-channel migrants in the run-down Napier barracks in Folkestone, Kent. Public Health England had earlier warned that the barracks were unsuitable for accommodation for asylum seekers during the Covid pandemic, and with 380 detained in poorly sectioned off rooms of 12-14 with shared bathrooms and toilets the spread of infection was clearly inevitable, with around 200 people catching Covid-19.

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 requires the Home Office to provide “support” for asylum seekers who are unable to support themselves, including if needed accommodation, but this must be adequate for their needs. Clearly in this case they were not, and the situation was worsened by employing a private contractor to run the barracks, who in turn outsourced much of the work required.

John McDonnell MP speaking

Many of those sent to the barracks were clearly unsuitable to be housed there because of pre-existing mental health issues arising from trafficking and/or torture before their arrival in the UK – and the Home Office’s own assessment criteria should have prevented them being sent to the barracks.

The whole judgement is complex and lengthy but reading the evidence it examines leaves the impression of a total lack of concern for human rights and common humanity in the operation of our asylum system, and one which is evident across the whole range of how we deal with migrants and asylum. In 2020 over 23,000 people were held in detention centres in the UK, around a third held for more than a month; but it is indefinite detention with no limit to the time they may be held and for some their stay has lasted around three years. Over half of those detained have claimed asylum.

Of those detained in 2019, just over a third were deported, some illegally. A small number – just over 300 in the year ending 2019 – received compensation, averaging £26,000, after proving their detention was illegal. (figures from https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/ The Migration Observatory.)

On Saturday 7th June 2014 I went to the neighbouring detention centres (a polite name for these immigration prisons) of Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, just across the A4 Bath Road north of Heathrow Airport, along with campaigners organised by Movement for Justice, who had come to protest with prisoners inside the immigration prison against the unjust ‘Fast Track System’ and mistreatment of detainees by private security firms.

The were joined outside the prisons by local MP John McDonnell who has a long record of supporting asylum seekers, who told us that when he first became MP for the area in 1997 the immigration detention centre was only a small building housing a dozen or so detainees. Now these two large blocks house several thousands – and their are other large immigration prisons across the country.

After the rally on the pavement outside, the protesters – who included many former detainees – marched onto the site and began to make a circuit on the roadway which goes around the Harmondsworth centre, most of which is enclosed behind tall fences. The stopped at places on the way where they knew that those inside the prison would be able to see and hear them, making a lot of noise chanting and shouting as well as with whistles and other noise-makers.

Detainees are allowed to have mobile phones and the protesters were able to contact a number of those inside, some of whom were able to speak by holding the phone they were calling to a microphone of the protesters’ megaphone. Many inside feel they are forgotten and all had complaints about the way they were treated by the detention centre staff and the poor conditions.

At later events here that I photographed, police prevented the protesters marching around the 20ft fences that surround it, limiting them to an area in front of the administration block. Clearly the tall fences mean there was no security risk, but the sight and sound of the protest was important in raising the morale of those held in the centres – and something those private contractors running the jails wished to avoid in future.

More pictures at Support Detainees in Harmondsworth

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.