Posts Tagged ‘MfJ’

End Immigration Detention – Harmondsworth 2015

Thursday, April 11th, 2024

End Immigration Detention – Harmondsworth: Saturday 11th April 2015 saw what I think was the largest protest to date outside the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre on the Bath Road immediately north of Heathrow airport.

End Immigration Detention - Harmondsworth

Various organisations had held protests here over the years, but these had grown since Movement for Justice began organising them, bringing a large group of current and former asylum seekers out from London on the tube to Terminal 5 and then on the short bus ride to the prison. They included some who had come from other cities in the country – and even from Glasgow. Other groups at the protest included No Borders, Southall Black Sisters and Shoreditch Sisters W I.

End Immigration Detention - Harmondsworth

There are two detention prisons on the site, both surrounded by 20ft high fences with a private road to a BT site running between them. Called Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, they were in 2015 both run by Mitie’s ‘care+custody’ division, and the overall name for the centre had changed to Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre, which made clear that the government intention was to deport people rather than operate a fair asylum system.

End Immigration Detention - Harmondsworth

The Home Office has long proved itself to be both incompetent and racist, and huge backlogs have built up over the processing of asylum claims. They seem to start from the position that all asylum claims are unfounded and those making them are liars, often despite the evidence. Claims that should be processed in days take months or years – during which time people may be kept in detention centres like these generally quite unnecessarily. We should imprison criminals, not asylum seekers.

End Immigration Detention - Harmondsworth

As I commented in 2015:

these are prisons, with those inside being unable to leave; they have a few privileges denied those in normal jails, including the use of mobile phones, but some disadvantages, including that they are all on indefinite sentences at the whim of government and subject to a constant threat they will be forcibly bundled onto a plane and taken back to the country from which they have fled, often at fear of their lives. These prisons are also run by staff who often lack the basic training, supervision and accountability of normal jails.”

The majority of those who claim asylum are eventually granted leave to remain in the UK as their claims are well-founded. Some have been deported before they are given time to prove their cases to the Home Office’s satisfaction under “fast track” procedures that have been ruled illegal.

Our laws prevent them from working and contributing to our economy and society, and almost all are keen to do so and have skills which are in short supply. We need a system that gives people the medical treatment they need and gets them back into normal work and life as quickly as possible. Instead far too many are simply parked in prisons like these without proper medical care and largely isolated from those who could help them. Its both inhumane and economically unsound.

Although police and a large team of security guards stopped the protesters from going down the road toward the prison blocks, forcing them into a pen in front of the administration building at the front of the site, the loud protest could be heard throughout the site. Some of the prisoners were able to use their mobile phones to welcome the protesters and let them known about the poor conditions inside, and their calls were relayed over the public address system the protesters had brought.

Most of those who spoke at the protest had themselves been held inside these or other detention centres often for long periods after escaping from beatings, rape and torture in their home countries, and several spoke about their experiences in the system here. Some said they had been treated as troublemakers because they stood up for their rights – and that inmates who failed to do so, whatever the strength of their cases, were likely to face deportation.

I was tired after a couple of hours of the noisy protest, with chanting, singing and dancing – though mainly I had just been taking photographs, and left to catch a bus home. I could hear the protest continuing from the bus stop several hundred yards away, and when the bus came – ten minutes late – saw the protesters making their way out of the site to a public footpath which runs along the side of the Colnbrook site to continue their protest closer to those prison blocks.

Many more pictures on My London Diary at End Immigration Detention.


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Shut Down Yarl’s Wood – 2016

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood – Saturday 12th March 2016 saw one of the largest protests outside the Immigration Detention Centre at Yarl’s Wood with well over a thousand people from around the country waving and shouting support to the women asylum seekers held indefinitely inside, who responded enthusiastically by shouting and waving back from the prison blocks behind the high fence, hindered by windows that hardly open. There were many among the protesters who had themselves been locked up in Yarls Wood or other detention centres.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

My day began badly, with a cancelled train and then a coach driver for the five or six mile journey from Bedford Station to the isolated prison who got lost and took us for a 20 mile mystery tour through rural Bedfordshire, meaning we arrived rather late for the protest.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

We arrived just in time for the final few minutes of the rally by Movement for Justice, the organisers of the protest, outside the locked gates of the Twinwoods Business Centre. An shortly after the protesters set off for the long march down the road and along a public footpath to a field on a slight rise adjoining the prison where the main protest was to take place.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

It was dry and sunny, but there had been a week of rain and the fields we walked past were full of puddles and the rise in front of the 20 foot prison fence was extremely treacherous and hard to climb. Alongside the metal fence was a concrete path but then a few feet of churned up mud before the slippery slope.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

At the bottom the lower 10ft of the fence is solid metal sheeting, so there you have no view of the prison. but can make a considerable noise by banging or kicking the fence. On top of the slope you can see the upper floors of the closest prison block, and from there we could make out those prisoners who had managed to get to the windows and were shouting greetings and some holding out notices though the small gap – just large enough for a hand to go through – that the windows open.

Unfortunately the windows reflect the sky and in the bright weather we could only see dimly those inside. Further along the rise we could see a little of the ground floor of the detention centre, and here the views were a little clearer. This part of the immigration prison was then being used for families, while the rest ws a women’s prison.

The regime in immigration detention differs from that in our other prisons and in one respect is worse. Those inside are held indefinitely and have no way of knowing when they might be released. And their detention can be very lengthy with one woman held there for three years less a couple of days. Many have seen this as totally unacceptable and called for a maximum length of detention of 28 days as is the case in some other countries.

But the detainees alhtough kept as prisoners are allowed to have mobile phones which they need to communicate with solicitors and others dealing with their immigration cases. And the protesters were able to phone some of the women inside and the calls could be linked to the public address system brought to the protest so they could tell something of their stories.

Those held in immigration detention are not criminals and few have or would commit any criminal offences. Many indeed have been victims of criminal attacks, violence and rape, or face these if they are deported back to their home countries. They all want to be allowed to live and work here, to contribute their skills to our country and pay our taxes. There is no need to keep them locked away. But we have a racist immigration regime that treats them as criminals and liars and shows little evidence of any humanity – but much of indifference, incompetence and unnecessary delays.

The goverment outsources their detention to private companies and various investigations and reports have shown the lack of care, mistreatment and even sexual harassment and violence in this and other centres. Rather than shutting them down and moving to a more humane system the government have now moved those who might otherwise been in Yarl’s Wood to a far more remote location to make protests harder to organise.

The pictures and text, including some captions, on My London Diary tell more about what what happened at the protest: Shut Down Yarl’s Wood.


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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.


Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow 2014

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow: Back in 2014 I could take a bus a short walk from my home which took me to within a few yards of what had recently been renamed the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre on Bath Road to the north of Heathrow Airport. And since the bus only ran every half hour I arrived a while before the protest there began and had time for a short walk – and almost half an hour to wait on my way home.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

Surprising both buses had fairly clean windows and I also took a few pictures through them on my journey, and you can see a few more at Colnbrook and Heathrow. Before the protest I’d walked beside the Duke of Northumberland’s River which runs through the extensive grounds of the British Airways offices, and on the other bank is a tall fence for the Immigration Centre and BT premises.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

The river is a man-made distributary of the River Colne, dug to take water to the Isleworth flour mill and Syon House. Along with another channel, the Longford River, built to take water to Bushy Park and Hampton Court, it has been rerouted around Heathrow airport and some of the pictures from the bus show the two in their new largely concrete channels beside the perimeter road.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

There are two immigration prisons on each side of a private road leading to the BT site behind. On the left of the picture is the Harmondsworth prison block, and on its right the high-security Colnbrook centre. At the start of the month both had been taken over by Mitie, as ‘Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre’, making ‘Care and Custody’, the Mitie subsidiary running the centre the “largest single private sector provider of immigration detention services to the Home Office.”

Mitie’s track record in running such centres should have disqualified them from running and government services. At Campsfield there had been three mass hunger strikes, a suicide and a disastrous major fire – perhaps why they had become one of the government’s favourite contractors.

Harmondsworth, Colnbrook & Heathrow

The name ‘Immigration Removal Centre’ reflects the government’s racist policies towards asylum centres. It wants to remove immigrants, whether or not they have a sound case for asylum. Such centres lock up people making it harder for them to pursue their case to remain in the UK and easier for them to be deported. The great majority of those imprisoned will eventually be given the right to remain in the UK, but may be held in centres like this for many months or even more than two years before being released so they can continue their lives – and make the positive contribution they will to UK society and our economy.

At previous protests here the protesters had been allowed to march down the private road between the two prisons and continue alongside the 20 foot fence around the Harmondsworth site back to the front. But now – perhaps due to the new management – police refused to allow them access, restricting the protest to a pen in front of the centre’s administrative block.

The protest was one of a number here organised by the Movement for Justice, and supported by many other organisation and the protesters argued for some time to be allowed to march down the roadway and around the Harmondsworth centre as usual but without success. Eventually the around a hundred protesters who had travelled out to the western edge of London moved into the pen provided.

The majority of those attending the protest were immigrants, many of whom had been held in this centre or others around the country. Harmondsworth imprisons male detainees, and many of the women at the protest had spent time in Yarl’s Wood near Bedford. Later MfJ would concentrate their protests at that centre.

The protest was a very noisy one, with loud shouting and drumming and a great deal of dancing between the speeches. Phone calls from inside told the protesters that they could be heard inside the cell blocks.

Most of those who spoke were former asylum speakers and told of the suffering they had endured in our immigration detention. As some said, it was worse than prison, as the detention was indefinite. They had no release date to look forward too, and could have been deported at any time back to the countries which they had fled in fear of their lives.

Speakers also called for an end to the ‘Detained Fast Track’ system, deliberately set up when Labour where in power to make it impossible for many asylum claimants to defend themselves against deportation and remove them from the country before they are able to do so. It’s a shameful system that no country that believes in the proper rule of law, fair play and human decency could support.

Various legal challenges to ‘Detained Fast Track’ led to the High Court declaring in January 2017 that DFT had denied justice to asylum seekers for the previous ten years, with thousands being deported without a lawful hearing of their cases.

A friend of the family of Rubel Ahmed who described how he died in Morton Hall immigration detention centre in Lincolnshire on September 5th 2014 after having been refused refused medical treatment for his chest pains. Fellow prisoners heard him screaming for help, and had rioted after his death, taking control of the detention centre until brutally suppressed. One who contacted the press was brutally beaten by prison guards.

Many more pictures from the protest on My London Diary at Close UK Immigration Prisons.


Justice for Rashan Charles & The Met

Saturday, July 29th, 2023

Justice for Rashan Charles: On Saturday 29th July 2017 I photographed a protest outside Stoke Newington Police Station over the death of Rashan Charles, who had died after being handcuffed by two police and held on the floor of a shop on Kingsland Road in Dalston in the early morning of Saturday 22nd July.

Justice for Rashan Charles
Rashan Charles’ father (left) stands beside Edson da Costa’s father as he speaks

The pictures on this post come from that protest, which was attended by members of his his family as well of those of Edson da Costa who died after being arrested in Beckton the previous month.

Justice for Rashan Charles
Weyman Bennett of Stand Up to Racism

An inquest into the death of Charles returned a verdict of that a package he had swallowed when being chased into the shop by an officer had blocked his airway causing the death. But it also found that the officers had failed to call for an ambulance when they should, but more controversially argued that this would not have saved his life.

Justice for Rashan Charles

The inquest into Da Costa’s death revealed a number of errors by police but the jury was told by the coroner that “there is no legal or factual basis for reaching a factual conclusion which is critical of the police” and reached a verdict of death by misadventure primarily due to his swallowing a plastic bag of illegal drugs.


Justice for Rashan Charles

In March 2023, Baroness Louise Casey who had been charged with investigating the Metropolitan Police following the murder of Sarah Everard in 2021, issued her official report with the conclusions that they were guilty of institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia.

Stafford Scott

It came as no surprise to those of us who had read the many under-reported stories over the years of people – black and white, men and women – who had been picked on and brutally treated and some killed by police over the years on social media and in minority publications. Nor those of us who had attended protests against their behaviour or watched them in action at times against protesters.

Dianne Abbott MP

Our mass media have always ignored many of these cases and underplayed others, almost always taking the side of the police and acting more as a PR agency for them, always keen to spread the rumours, lies and misleading press statements the police rush out to excuse their mistakes and misbehaviour.

Friends of Rashan Charles

We saw this at its most blatant over Hillsborough, again with the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and the killing of Ian Tomlinson while trying to walk back to his hostel through a protest at the Bank of England.

We’ve also seen the deliberate actions by the police to pervert the course of justice in high profile cases including the racist killing of Stephen Lawrence, where they investigated his family and friends while treating one of his killers as a witness. Daniel Morgan’s family have just received an apology and compensation over their failure to properly investigate his axing to death in a Sydenham pub car park in 1987 – a panel concluded that the Met’s “first objective was to protect itself” against the allegations of corruption against some of its officers.

Many other campaigners have exposed deliberate obstruction by police to inquiries into deaths, particularly those in police custody, such as Sean Rigg, which I’ve written about here before.

In the last few days, 25 years after his racist murder in Kingston, Lakhvinder Ricky Reel was awarded an honorary degree by Brunel University, part of a long campaign to get justice by his mother Sukhdev Reel.

Sukhdev Reel at Downing Street in 2000

Ricky and his friends had been victims of a racial attack in the town centre and six days later his body was recovered from the Thames. His family had been urging the police to search the river since he disappeared – and his body was found after only 7 minutes of searching. The Met refused to treat his death as a racist attack and made many failures in their investigation, devoting more resources to spying on his family by the undercover Special Demonstration Squad for their campaigning.


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.


Shut down Yarl’s Wood Immigration Prison – 2017

Saturday, May 13th, 2023

On Saturday 13th May 2017 I put my Brompton folding bike on the train and made my way to Bedford Station via St Pancras. I was on my way the the 11th protest outside the immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood in the campaign led by Movement for Justice to shut down this and other immigration prisons.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

This was the first time I’d taken a bike to get to Yarl’s Wood, although I’d been to most of the previous protests they had organised there. Before I’d ridden from the station on a coach organised by the event organisers which hadn’t always been ideal, meaning I sometimes arrived late – especially once when the driver got lost – and had to leave when the coach was leaving, sometimes before the end of the protest and sometimes when I would have liked to leave earlier. On the bike I was free to arrive when I wanted and leave when I liked.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

Yarl’s Wood is sited in an area remote for the southern parts of England, on the site of a former wartime airfield, probably chosen as somewhere people could be locked away out of sight and out of mind, on the hills around 5 miles north of Bedford. Motorists would take the A6 to Milton Ernest, the closest village, and then a mile or more uphill to the meeting point outside the Twinwoods Business Park. But I took a slightly more sensible cycle route, mainly along side roads or cycle paths, with just a short section beside the A6 into the village.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

Most of the route was uphill, climbing slowly towards the hills, then wasting the energy I’d expended in climbing with short downhill sections. But the final section from Milton Ernest was uphill all the way, long and steep, though I didn’t need to worry about traffic on it as the police had helpfully closed the road.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

My Brompton has a 3-speed hub gear and isn’t really good on hills, with the lowest of the three still being rather high when things get steep, but I managed to struggle up without having to get off and walk, though I was tired and seriously panting by the time I reached the top.

There I locked the bike to a fence and joined the thousand or so protesters who had travelled from around the country in a long line of coaches parked along the road. There were speeches and chanting for some time as we waited for others to arrive.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

The gates of the business centre were locked and protesters are prevented from taking the shortest route to the prison (there is also a more direct private road from the south closed to the public.) But a public footpath runs beside the 20ft fence around it. To reach it the campaigners first march a few hundred yards along the road, then turn down one footpath to reach a bridleway before going a few hundred yards along this to the path leading to the prison.

Its not a great distance, a little over three-quarters of a mile, but much of the way is on paths often muddy and full of puddles, and the Brompton is not happy off-road. I ended up pushing it much of the time, occasionally carrying it along with my camera bag, though some of the protesters did give me a hand so I could take some photographs.

Outside the prison the protesters marched into a field on the north side where a small hill rises to give a limited view over the solid lower half of the 20 foot metal prison fence. Their shouts and noise were greeted by those inside the centre who had managed to get to the windows on that side.

The prison windows have very limited opening, but enough for some of the women inside to get their arms through and wave, often holding items of clothing, or sheets of A4 paper with messages calling for freedom and for justice. Our view of them from the hill was only through the wire mesh of the upper 10 feet of the 20 foot fence which made taking pictures difficult.

From most places we could only see the two upper floors of the building, but at the very highest point the upper part of some ground floor windows was also visible. These rooms are used to house families being detained and although Yarl’s Wood was mainly used to detain women there were a few men here as well.

Most of the protesters stood up on the hill holding banners and placards but others were at the bottom, some banging or kicking the metal fence which resonates to make a terrific racket. Others wrote slogans on the fence, though these were only visible to us outside. People climbed up on ladders or other people’s shoulders or used long poles to hold banners, posters and placards in front of the upper mesh where the detainees could see them.

Movement for Justice had brought a public address system and there were speeches, mainly from former detainees, including several women who had been held at Yarl’s Wood. One who spoke was Mabel Gawanas who had been recently released a after a few days short of 3 years inside. A few detainees were also able to speak from inside over mobile phones, amplified by the PA system.

The protests at Yarl’s Wood have been important in gaining publicity for the terrible way in which the UK treats asylum seekers, particularly women who are locked up in this ‘racist, sexist hell-hole’ which has been exposed by various reports. They have an enormous morale-boosting affect on the prisoners who feel isolated and forgotten inside.

But the government’s response has been to re-purpose Yarl’s Wood as a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat in December 2021 and to set up a new immigration detention centre for women in an even more remote location in County Durham, where it is much harder for the women to organise and argue their cases. Almost certainly a part of this decision was to try to avoid further protests such as this one.

More recently the Home Office has started indefinitely detaining women at Yarl’s Wood again, although the numbers are much smaller. No official announcement was made of this reversion.

Much more at Shut down Yarl’s Wood Prison on My London Diary.


April 28th 2015 IWMD

Friday, April 28th, 2023

April 28th 2015 IWMD; April 28th every year is International Workers Memorial Day, and last year here on >Re:PHOTO I wrote about this, beginning with a quote from the TUC web site:

Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don’t die of mystery ailments, or in tragic “accidents”. They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn’t that important a priority. International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) 28 April commemorates those workers.

TUC – International Workers’ Memorial Day

I wrote more about it and illustrated the post with pictures taken mainly at previous years on Tower Hill. You can still read it at International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD).

This year there are events planned in Stratford, Barking and Walthamstow marking the event, as well as others around the country, and many workplaces will be holding a minute’s silence at 12 noon.


On Tuesday 28th April 2015 two of the three events I covered were related to IWMD, but I also went to Holloway Prison with protesters demanding the release of an immigration detainee being held there.


Qatar Slave Labour deaths – World Cup 2022 – Qatari Embassy, Mayfair

April 28th 2015 IWMD

My working day began with trade unionists outside the Qatari embassy in Mayfair, where they attempted to deliver a letter on International Workers Memorial Day protesting the slaughter of migrant slave labour workers on World Cup building sites. At current death rates, over 4,000 migrant workers will die by 2022.

April 28th 2015 IWMD

According to a Guardian report, on average one Nepalase worker there dies very two days, and including the deaths of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers the death rate is most likely more than one every day. At least 964 workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh died working in Qatar in 2012 and 2013.

April 28th 2015 IWMD

Work had still to begin on eleven of the 12 stadiums needed for the 2022 World Cup and there are likely to be many more dying due to the appalling exploitation and abuse of these migrant workers.

April 28th 2015 IWMD

The International Labour Organization had urged Qatar to “ensure without delay, access to justice for migrant workers, so that they can effectively assert their rights […] strengthening the complaints system and the labour inspection system”.

According to Amnesty many of the migrant workers have there passports confiscated when they arrive for work in Qatar and are forced to work long hours for very low pay day after day with no rest and are often physically and sexually abused.

Police moved the protesters away from the embassy to the other side of the road but allowed a small deputation to approch the doorway with a letter. A police officer went inside the embassy to ask if someone would come to the door to accept this from Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union. After a lengthy wait, a man came to the door and refused, and the protesters then left it on the doorstep.

In 2021 The Guardian revealed that “More than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago“. A few days football came at a very bloody price.

Qatar Slave Labour deaths – World Cup 2022


Holloway protest for Yarl’s Wood protester Anna – Holloway Prison

From Mayfair I travelled to a very different area of London for a protest outside Holloway Prison, a Victorian prison in one of the poorer areas of North London which had housed only women prisoners since 1902 and was closed a year after this protest.

Anna, a detainee in Yarls Wood immigration detention prison, had been one of a group of women defending another detainee, a torture victim, who was about to be deported. Thirty guards rushed into the room and brutally assaulted them all, taking them to solitary confinement in the ‘Kingfisher’ isolation unit at Yarl’s Wood. Both Anna and another woman, Lillija, were threatened with prison, but only Anna was transferred to Holloway prison and was being held there although she was had not been charged with any offence.

Both women had been involved in a Channel 4 News exposure of the abuses of women by guards in Yarls Wood which had led to one guard being suspended.

Many of those at the emergency protest organised by Movement for Justice demanding Anna’s release had served time in Yarls Wood or other immigration prisons.

When a group of three prison employees came out to argue with the protesters that their protest simply upset women being held inside the jail they told them from their first hand experience how greatly they had welcomed knowing that there were people outside the prison who were aware of them and wanting to help.

Free Yarl’s Wood Anna from Holloway


Hotel Workers Rise Up on Workers Memorial Day

Finally I came back to central London and the Hilton London Metropole hotel on the Edgware Road in Bayswater and in another protest for International Workers’ Memorial Day against the exploitation of workers, mainly migrants organised by the Unite Hotel Workers branch. Workers at luxury hotels in portering and household services are employed by agencies on minimum wage, zero hours contracts and denied basic rights.

Several workers including former room attendant Barbara Pokryszka spoke at the protest, complaining of heavy workloads and abusive treatment by management, who fail to treat them as human beings, saying “We Are Not Machines”. As in other areas of work outsourcing to contractors who pay minimum wage and impose abysmal conditions is at the root of the abuse.

Luxury hotels have a world-wide reputation to maintain and this would be damaged if they were found to be treating staff on their payroll in such a disgusting way. A night’s stay for two in a room costs over £200 and housekeeping worker would usually have to clean between 12 and 20 rooms in an 8 hour shift. The worker’s pay for cleaning – before deductions would be around £85 while the hotel guests would be paying over £3000 for their stay. Hotels could surely pay more to their essential workers.

Hotel Workers – Workers Memorial Day


Peckham Pride

Monday, February 20th, 2023

Earlier this week I took a walk with a couple of friends in Peckham, one of my favourite parts of south London, and currently on this site I’ve been making a number of illustrated posts about walks I made there back in 1989, the latest, a couple od days ago being Bird in Bush, Wood Dene, Asylum and a School. But I’ve also photographed other events in Peckham, including the first Peckham Pride, seven years ago on Saturday 20th February 2016.


Peckham Pride

LGSMigrants and Movement for Justice organised the event to put the politics of resistance which has for many years been sidelined by the growing commercialisation of Pride marches and events back into Pride.

Peckham’s FIRST EVER Pride march is for everyone with and without citizenship, papers or no papers. We REFUSE to accept stigma or discrimination over the colour of our passports, the colour of our skin, our gender, our sexuality or our ability.

They had chosen to come to Peckham for this event as the area had become a major target for anti-immigration raids, racist go-home vans, and street harassment by the Home Office.

The are has a large Nigerian and Ghanaian community which makes it a convenient target for racist raids leading to brutal deportations on cattle-like charter flights to Nigeria and Ghana. But its residents have also made it a focus of growing popular resistance on the streets to these illegal and immoral activities.

Several hundred supporters of the event met on the square by Peckham Library – now threatened along with the Peckham Arch by Southwark Council who are eager to build on much of the area – and perhaps to end the community events which gather there, sometimes critical of council activities.

At a rally there were speeches calling for refugees to be welcomed in Britain and to find here a safe haven where they can enjoy freedom, oppourtunity and education. Instead they are faced with a government which is increasingly making the country a hostile environment both for them and for the majority of citizens. The speakers emphasized the need to organise and act together to oppose and defeat these polices.

From the arch on Peckham High Street Peckham Pride marched down the major shopping street of Rye Lane, attracting attention and some encouraging gestures and comments with some loud chanting and a samba band.

They stopped again a little past Rye Lane station where there were more speeches, including by another former Yarl’s Wood detainee who told how they had organised and held together to stop a fellow detainee being forcibly deported. A local shopkeeper came to talk about the Border Force raids, including one on his premises and the community opposition close to them, and there was a powerful speech from a local resident about the need to organise resistance and oppose these raids.

Local resistance is both effective and appropriate, as the Home Office employees who carry them out are generally acting in abuse of the law. I had to leave before the end of the march and missed the performances which were to follow it at the Bussey Centre at the centre of Peckham.

Peckham Pride