Posts Tagged ‘MfJ’

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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Brexit and More: 20th Oct 2018

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

Brexit isn’t the end of the world, but it is beginning to become very clear what a huge mistake it was, driven by a relatively few people who not only stood to make large profits but also were scared of losing the huge advantages they get from currently legal tax avoidance schemes which the EU were promising to clamp down.

The vote – a close one – shows how the handful of billionaires who control most of our media and set the agenda for the rest use their power to influence many voters in this country, making a mockery of the ideals behind our ideas of democracy. It also showed the stupidity of the then Conservative leader who was so sure of winning that he set up the vote on an important constitutional change in a way that would not have been allowed by the average tennis club, where important issues would need rather more than a simple majority.

Those behind the People’s Vote argued that so much evidence had come out since the referendum that it was necessary to get a new mandate from the people to leave the EU. It was an argument that although well-founded was not going to get any support from the then PM Theresa May who was by then running scared of the right-wing hard Brexiteers who eventually took over the party. And it was also to prove toxic to the Labour Party who were pushed into supporting it by Keir Starmer – when there was already no shortage of poison and dirty tricks – as a leaked report made clear – though we still await the report of the Forde Inquiry on this.

The current dispute over the agreement signed with the EU to resolve the problems of the Irish border shows how eager the Johnson government was to get a hard Brexit done, apparently signing up without reading the small print (or rather ignoring the advice of civil servants who had read it.) Although the EU seem to be making things as easy as possible for exports to flow freely it currently seems likely that the UK will continue to demand the impossible and trigger a complete breakdown and a massive and highly damaging trade war, probably not confined to Europe.

I photographed at the start of the huge People’s March, when people filled much of Park Lane and a large corner of Hyde Park, and watched as they streamed past me.

Movement for Justice came to the march and tried to join it near the front, and when they were refused went and stood on the road in front of the official banner – along with quite a few other protesters. They were calling for an end to the hostile environment and the scapegoating of immigrants and demanding an amnesty for all people already present in the country and the extension of freedom of movement to include the Commonwealth. They marched down Piccadilly ahead of the main march whose start was held up.

Later I rejoined the main march as it came down Whitehall for the rally in Parliament Square. There were so many people that they could not all get into the square and many came to a halt along Whitehall, while others were reported still to be at Green Park, just a short distance from the start of the march. People were dancing and partying on the route having given up the attempt to complete the march.

A couple of other protests were taking place around Whitehall. Opposite Downing St the
People’s Mujahedin of Iran were protesting against the repressive regime in Iran,. there and calling for an end to executions there Posters reminded us that the Iranian regime is the world record holder for executions and gibbets and three women held in a prison cell illustrated the reign of terror there.

At the Ministry of Defence Veterans United Against Suicide were calling for more to be done to help service men and veterans in the fight against their developing PTSD and eventually committing suicide. They appeared to be a small extreme right group exploiting the issue, with a large banner supporting the soldier discharged for standing with Tommy Robinson in a photo used to publicise his extreme right-wing views. While I took a few pictures a speaker was condemning one of the major forces charities, accusing it of fraud and failure to act over the mental health issues. Some of those present made clear that I was not welcome at the event and I decided not to stay.

More at:

People’s Vote March – End
Veterans United Against Suicide
People’s Mujahedin of Iran
MfJ at People’s Vote March
People’s Vote March – Start


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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.

Netanyahu’s visit – 2015

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

Around a thousand people came to protest against the visit to Downing Street by the then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and several hundred came to oppose the protest and support Israel. Police struggled to keep the two groups apart.

The larger group said the Netanyahu should be arrested for war crimes in the attack on Gaza last year. Many refused to go into the penned area on the opposite side of Whitehall that police had designated and it was probably too small for all of them.

Police tried to persuade them to get off of the roadway and back onto the pavement, but were eventually overwhelmed and the protesters moved across the road to the pavement in front of the Downing St gates.

Some of the pro-Israeli protesters then moved out from their pen, and for some time the two groups faced each other across the fairly narrow way into Downing Street that police managed to keep clear. A few protesters from each side were arrested and led away, mainly when they argued aggressively with police or their opponents.

Among the protesters against Netanyahu and calling for freedom for Palestine there were as usual both Palestinians and Jews; later a group of Neturei Karta arrived, having walked from North London to join them. These ultra-orthodox Jews support Palestine and are opposed to any political state of Israel on religious grounds. One of their banners read ‘JUDAISM – G-dly & Compassionate – ZIONISM G-dless & Merciless’.

The supporters of the Israeli state included a number of right-wing Christians who came with a Union Flag with ‘UK Christians Love Israel’ on it. Like Neterei Karta they are only a small and unrepresentative group.

Some of the pro-Israel demonstrators were reluctant to be photographed and complained to police about photographers as well as about the other protesters who they felt police were failing to control. One man stretched out his hand to cover my lens – so of course after photographing that I made sure that I took his picture and you can see him on My London Diary.

The protest was still continuing as I left to photograph another event nearby, though I suspect that Netanyahu had already arrived and been taken inside by a back entrance. Movement for Justice were in Parliament Square calling on MPs to support the proposals of the detention inquiry. They want an end to detention, fast track and immigration raids, the opening of the Calais border and an amnesty for migrants. Many of those taking part were asylum seekers who had been subjected to indefinite detention in UK detention centres after making their asylum claims.

Fight immigration detention MfJ tells MPs
Support for Israel & Netanyahu
Netanyahu visit protest – Free Palestine

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.


Anti-Racist & Migrant Rights Reclaim Pride – 2017

Thursday, July 8th, 2021

I’ve almost given up on photographing the annual Pride Parade in central London, which has become such a corporate event, though as in this event in 2017 there are sometimes things happening around it which still have some political edge – and even inside it, generally relegated to well behind the corporate razzmatazz.

As I wrote on 8th July 2017:

“Pride over the years has degenerated from the original protest into a corporate glitterfest led by major corporations which use it as ‘pinkwashing’ to enhance their reputation and it includes groups such as the Home Office, arms companies and police whose activities harm gay people in the UK and across the world.”

My London Diary – July 2017

In 2017 the commercialisation of Pride had reached new heights, with participation limited to those groups who had officially applied and got pride armbands being allowed to join the procession. At least in part this seems to have been an attempt to exclude groups such as the Migrants Rights and Anti-Racist Bloc organised and led by Movement for Justice and including Lesbians & Gays Support The Migrants, No Pride in War and London Supports Istanbul Pride who had joined in towards the back of the 2016 parade.

I don’t know if the bloc had made an application, but I think probably not, and they certainly didn’t have the armbands. They marched between police vans that were blocking the entrance to Oxford Circus in front of the march with others lifting up barriers and tried to make their way past the front of the march to join in further back but were stopped by Pride stewards.

This left them immediately in front of the heavily stewarded front of the official parade, and they refused to move unless they were allowed to make their way into the parade. A stalemate ensued, with Pride stewards insisting that they had to leave the area, and the Migrants Rights and Anti-Racist Bloc refusing to shift. Police tried to get them to move and also tried to get the Pride stewards to let them into the march, but they remained adamant.

It was time for the parade to start, but it couldn’t. Eventually police sorted out the issue by holding back the official parade while the Migrants Rights and Anti-Racist Bloc marched along the parade route past the large crowds to a great deal of applause and some aggravation from Pride stewards along it.

Around a quarter of an hour later, the official parade started, following them along the route. But it was again held up as the front of the procession reached Whitehall, as some of the No Pride in War protesters lay down on the tarmac in front of it. The procession was held up for another 15 minutes as police tried to persuade them to leave – and eventually I think they all got up when finally threatened with arrest.

The Migrants Rights and Anti-Racist Bloc had made a stand and had reclaimed Pride as a protest – with a separate official Pride following behind – and the No Pride In War had also made their point against the inclusion of the military in the official event. But “curiously” for such a high-profile protest in an event covered by huge numbers of press from around the world I think it went totally unreported in the mainstream media. For them, Pride is just a colourful spectacle.

Anti-Racist & Migrant Rights reclaim Pride

Migrant Pride and Pride 2016

Friday, June 25th, 2021

I first photographed London’s annual Pride in 1993, when it was a much smaller and more political event than it has become. Back then it was still a protest an since then it has become a parade, dominated by large corporate floats, from various large companies, armed forces and police.

Of course there is still some of the old spirit, with many groups from the gay community and even some protesters still taking part, but largely hidden at the back of the very long line-up.

The Migrant Rights & Anti-Racist Pride march to the official Pride London procession organised by Movement for Justice and joined by others, including London in Solidarity with Istanbul LGBTI Pride and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants brought back some of the original spirit.

It gathered on Oxford St and then went on to join the main march, along with others behind the corporate floats.

The following year Pride organisers reacted by closing the march to only those who had officially applied to march and had official armbands – and refused entry to the Migrants Rights and Anti-Racist Bloc who then sat down in front of the march before police decided they could march along the route before the main procession.

This year Pride in London has been postponed until 11 September, but Peter Tatchell this May called for an alternative LGBT+ rights march to take place in June, He stated:

“For too long we have been conned by vested interests into believing that it is hugely expensive to hold a Pride march. It is not costly at all if we run the no-frills march that I am proposing.

“It would mirror the informality and spontaneity of the first Pride march in 1972, which I and 40 others helped organise. All we need to do is publicise it and people will turn up.

“Pride in London has become depoliticised. This Pride can change that. As well as being a joyful celebration, it should also profile LGBT+ human rights issues, such as the government stalling on a conversion therapy ban, blocking reform of the Gender Recognition Act and failing to end the detention of LGBT+ asylum seekers.

“It’s time to get back to the original roots of Pride, with everyone encouraged to bring a placard highlighting the LGBT+ issues that concern them. Let’s make this an event where our on-going demands for LGBT+ rights can be seen and heard.

https://www.petertatchellfoundation.org/call-for-alternative-reclaim-pride-london-march-in-late-june/

So far as I’m aware it has not been possible to organise an event like this for June 2010, although the London Trans Pride is still billed to take place on June 26, beginning at 2pm at Hyde Park. Perhaps next year it will be possible to organise such a “no frills” march with “no floats, no stage and no speakers at the end. Totally open, egalitarian and grassroots.” which “would reclaim Pride for the community.”

Pride London 2016
Migrant Rights & Anti-Racist Pride

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.


Marching for Justice

Friday, January 22nd, 2021


21 years ago on 22 Jan 2000 I photographed a March against police racism organised by the Movement For Justice in Wood Green, and it is one of the earlier protests that I featured on my web site My London Diary.

It wasn’t of course the first protest that I had photographed, which had been around 25 years earlier, and through the 1990s I had increasingly begun to attend and photograph various political events, although the bulk of my work was still in other areas.

My London Diary didn’t exist in January 2000, but when I set up the site a year or two later I scanned some of my 8×10″ file prints from 1999 and 2000 to put some content on the site from the start.

At the time I was still working mainly in black and white and sending prints to the library that handled my work; they also worked with colour transparencies, but I had given up taking these 15 years earlier and moved to colour negative. The library then couldn’t handle digital files, and also my flatbed scanner was only black and white. At the start there was little or no colour work on My London Diary, though things soon changed as I first used a consumer digital camera as a personal notebook, then moved to working with a Nikon DSLR.

The earliest protest to be featured on My London Diary was from Brixton in February 1999, and over a similar issue, a National Civil Rights march calling for the release of Winston Silcott. So many years later things perhaps have changed very little – just the names, as the recent death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan shows.

It wasn’t in 2000 easy to find out when and where protests other than the big national events organised by groups such as CND and the anti-war protests were taking place, but in June 1999 Indymedia had been founded around the global justice anticapitalist protest Carnival Against Capital and around this time many groups involved in protests were beginning to use the web to communicate through e-mail and web sites.

From around 2000 I began to cover many more protests, partly because I left full-time teaching and could attend more, but also because it became easier to find out about them. It was some time later that I began to put my pictures from protests on Indymedia, as a way of sharing my work with those I had photographed. I was also sending them to photo agencies in order to finance the work, as well as working as a writer on photography. I began My London Diary as a way to get my work to a wider audience, and hoped it would generate enough direct sales to at least cover the costs involved.

It has managed to do that and has also provided a great deal of feedback over the years, but hasn’t been a huge financial success.

My London Diary 2000