Posts Tagged ‘racist’

Shut Down Racist Yarl’s Wood

Saturday, March 12th, 2022

Shut Down Racist Yarl’s Wood. On Saturday 12th March 2016, six years ago today, I made another visit to the immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood where the Movement for Justice (MfJ) had organised another large protest.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Women at the windows – one holds a bible through the narrow window opening

The Home Office no longer uses Yarl’s Wood to house large numbers of women asylum seekers, but unfortunately this does not mean their cruel and racist policies have changed. Women were at first moved out because of Covid, but Priti Patel has set up a new immigration prison, Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre, to hold 80 detainees to replace it, with around 88 women being moved and locked up there for Christmas 2021.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
People march down the road to a footpath leading to Yarl’s Wood

The new centre at Hassockfield is on the site of the notorious Medomsley Detention Centre, where over 1,800 young male detainees were abused in the 1960s to 1980s, and is at at Medomsley Edge, 13 miles NW of Durham, 1.7 miles North of Consett. It has been renamed again as Derwentside, to give it a more friendly image, though the river is around a mile away as the crow flies. Almost certainly the Home Office was fed up with the protests organised by MfJ and others at the already rather remote site at Yarl’s Wood, around 5 miles outside Bedford, and thought it a good idea to move it rather further away from London, where there are many former detainees and activists who came to demonstrations.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Marching along the footpath

But of course people came from all over the country – including from Scotland – to Yarl’s Wood, and protests will continue, with an active ‘No to Hassockfield‘ local group at their centre, although it’s too far away for me to photograph them.

Women have little to protest with and the windows only open an inch or so. They hold messages to the glass and throw out toilet paper

Hassockfield is so remote that the Home Office was unable to find law firms which would give satisfactory tenders to give legal advice there and abandoned the search – with detainees now only able to get advice by phone. Women for Refugee Women are calling for donations to mount a legal challenge over this lack of support. There is a great deal more information about the cruel and racist treatment of asylum seekers with many telling their own stories on their web site.

Yarl’s Wood like almost all of the immigration prisons is privately run for the Home Office, with companies cutting costs for profit

Back on 12th March 2016, my own journey to Yarl’s Wood didn’t go too well, with a train cancellation. But I still got to Bedford Station in a little over two hours and in time for the coach organised by MfJ to the meeting point at Twinwoods Business Park, around a mile walk from the prison. Unfortunately the coach driver didn’t know the way and police had put up large signs stating the road up from the A6 was closed (though in fact they were letting traffic to the protest to go through.) The result was a rather lengthy tour of the Bedfordshire countryside – with another wrong turning, meaning we arrived the best part of an hour late.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Protesters climb up to show placards and balloons to the women

Fortunately the event had started with a rally on the road waiting for people from around the country to arrive, and the mile or so walk to the prison was waiting for us and only just about to begin.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Battering the fence makes a lot of noise

Fortunately it was a fine day for the walk, but there had been heavy rain in previous days and some of the footpath and the field beside the prison where the protest took place was full of mud and some puddles, making it hard to move about and keep my balance. As you can see in some pictures close to the fence it was a sticky mess.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Many of those protesting were former detainees, some of whom spoke at the event

The field has a fairly steep slope up from the 20ft prison fence, which does enable protesters to see over the lower 10ft of thick metal sheeting and to glimpse the women waving, shouting and holding posters at the upper floor windows inside.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Women had written messages on towels and clothing to hang out through the narrow openings.

It is tricky taking pictures through the 10 ft upper section of the fence with its thick wire grid and I don’t have the kind of long and fast lenses for this. I actually declined the invitation from the organisers to photograph the first large MfJ protest here as I knew I didn’t really have the right gear, suggesting they invite a colleague. But for later protests I decided that there were many other pictures I could take and I could at least get some kind of pictures through that fence.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Many reports have confirmed the abuses taking place inside Yarl’s Wood

Many of those at the protest were people who had been locked up inside Yarl’s Wood or other detention centres, and almost all of those who spoke had stories to tell about how their mistreatment – having been physically and sexually assaulted, locked in rooms, denied medical assistance, unable to get proper legal advice and more. Most had come to this country fleeing from violence, often from rape and in dire need of care and understanding and instead were locked up, their stories disbelieved and further subjected to hostile and inhuman treatment.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Detainees are allowed phones and some were able to speak from inside the immigration prison

At the end of the protest people let off a number of coloured flares before the long walk back to the coaches. I was rather caught in the mud and unable to get close to where this was happening. On the path and road back to the coach I tried to scrape the worst of the mud from my boots and trousers on the grass and on the kerb of the road, and found some sticks to help, but Bedfordshire mud proved extremely persistent.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood
Most of the speakers were former detainees and friends inside could hear them

We needed to remove our boots before getting on the coach, and fortunately I had a plastic bag to put them in for the journey, getting back into them where we were dropped off at the station. The journey home was slow but uneventful and I was exhausted and needed a good meal and a bath when I arrived – but at least unlike those detainees I was free.

Shut Down Racist Yarl's Wood

More at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood on My London Diary, where you can also find accounts of other protests at Yarl’s Wood as well as other immigration prisons at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook using the site search.


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Outsourcing, North Woolwich & Class War v. Rees-Mogg

Saturday, February 26th, 2022

Outsourcing, North Woolwich & Class War v. Rees-Mogg. Three years ago on Tuesday 26th February I spent the morning photographing several protests against outsourcing, had a rather late pub lunch, then went to North Woolwich for a short walk before rushing back to meet Class War who were protesting outside a Palladium show by Jacob Rees-Mogg.


Rally for an end to Outsourcing

A legal challenge was taking place at the High Court on this day to extend the employment rights of the 3.3 million workers whose jobs are outsourced from the companies where they work to contracting companies which then sell them back to their place of employment at cut rates.

Labour Shadow Business minister Laura Pidcock

The contractors do this by cutting wages, trimming things such as pensions, maternity pay and holiday pay to the bare legal minimum, increasing workload and reducing hours of work and often bullying managers. Outsourced workers generally have little job security and are often denied necessary safety equipment and not given proper safety training.

Workers, mainly migrants who work for the Ministry of Justice, Dept for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of London were taking part in a one day strike in a coordinated action by the UVW and IWGB trade unions and the BEIS PCS branch to demand an end to outsourcing and the insecurity, discrimination and low pay it causes. They had started their march at 8.00am at the University of London and after a rally outside the High Court had marched to Parliament Square where I met them at 11am.

Rally for an end to Outsourcing


Outsourced Workers protest at BEIS

From Parliament Square the marchers went on to hold a further rally outside the Dept for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in Victoria St. Those striking at the BEIS included catering and security staff who are members of the PCS and are demanding the London Living Wage as well as end to outsourcing and the insecurity, discrimination and low pay it causes.

The PCS strikers led a lively rally with plenty of singing, dancing and shouting of slogans expressing their demands, which was followed by several speeches, including from Labour MP Chris Williamson, who brought messages of support from Labour shadow cabinet members and promises that a Labour government would end outsourcing.

Outsourced Workers protest at BEIS


Outsourced Workers at Justice ministry

The marchers continued the short walk to the Ministry of Justice in Petty France, where low paid workers belonging to the United Voices of the World union at the Ministry of Justice have been campaigning for some time to get the London Living wage, but the Justice Minister has refused to talk with them. Many wore t-shirts calling it the Ministry of Injustice.

During the rally outside the building some of the UVW workers who had already been on strike for 24 hours went back into the ministry to resume work, to cheers and hugs from those on the street outside. The rally ended with music and dancing on the pavement, and I left for a rather late pub lunch in Holborn.

Outsourced Workers at Justice ministry


North Woolwich

I’d been intending to walk a short section of the Capital Ring, mainly beside the River Thames, for some months as it had been quite a few years since I’d last been there and wanted to see how it had changed. I had an afternoon with nothing else I needed to photograph and although the sunny weather with clear blue skies was not ideal it seemed a good opportunity.

Panoramic photographs almost always have large expanses of sky, and on days like this it tends lack interest, as well as often giving unnatural looking variations in tone when getting closer to the sun. Getting to North Woolwich should have been simple and reasonably fast, but unfortunately there was trouble on the DLR and I had to make a less direct route, so had to rather rush on the walk and leave it half-finished. It was a few months later before I found time to go back and complete it.

North Woolwich


Class War protest Rees-Mogg freak show

I find it hard to understand why anyone should want to come and listen to Jacob Rees-Mogg, let alone pay £38 for a ticket to do so at the London Palladium.

So too did Class War, and with Jane Nicholl dressed as a nun, Mother Hysteria, and Adam Clifford as Jacob Rees Mogg they loudly asked why people had come to listen to him “spout homophobic, transphobic, racist, pro-hunting, misogynist, classist, privileged” nonsense.

Their show on the street outside was almost certainly a better show than anything that would take place later inside the venue, and all for free. Police spent a considerable amount of public money on harassing them, and provided their own rather hilarious input by searching Mother Hysteria and threatening to arrest her for carrying offensive weapons after some novelty stink bombs were found in her handbag. When I left the officer who had stopped and searched her had already spent 20 minutes trying to write her notice of stop and search, probably at a loss trying to find some way to put it that doesn’t make it sound incredibly stupid.

Class War protest Rees-Mogg freak show


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Flowers to Yarls Wood – 2017

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

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

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

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

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

The windows only open a few inches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 12


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