Posts Tagged ‘mistreatment’

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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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