Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

UN Anti-Racism Day – London

Saturday, March 19th, 2022

March 21st was established by the United Nations as a World Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the sixth anniversary of police opening fire and killing 69 peaceful protesters at Sharpeville, South Africa on March 21, 1960. Protests in the UK for UN Anti Racism Day take place close to the date and there will be large national marches today, 19th March in London and Glasgow and tomorrow in Cardiff. Today’s post is about events in London on March 19th 2016.

UN Anti Racism Day - London

Stand Up to Racism – Refugees Welcome march

UN Anti Racism Day - London

Thousands met at the BBC to march through London to a rally in Trafalgar Square in an event organised by Stand Up to Racism against racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and fascism and to make it clear that refugees are welcome here.

UN Anti Racism Day - London
Lee Jasper and Zita Holbourne at the front of the Black Lives Matter bloc on the march

Prominent on the march were Black Lives Matter protesters, wearing red in support of the ‘Justice for Sarah Reed’ campaign, chanting loudly “Say Her Name, Sarah Reed” and “Black Lives Matter”. She had died aged 31 in Holloway prison where she was held waiting for psychiatric reports following an attack on her, possibly an attempted rape, by fellow patient in a psychiatric hospital for which she was arrested and charged with grievious bodily harm with intent.

An inquest decided she had killed herself when her mind was unsound, and that unacceptable delays in medical care contributed to her death. Clearly too the prison staff had failed in their duty of care. Four years earlier she had been falsely arrested for shoplifting and seriously assaulted by the arresting officer who was later convicted and dismissed from the Metropolitan police for the offence.

There were also a number of groups on the march working with refugees trapped in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk, and some of those had lines drawn across their lips to remember some of the refugees on hunger strike there who have sewn up their lips.

Although the deaths of many refugees drowned in crossing the Mediterranean have led to widespread sympathy among the British people, there has been no compassion shown by our government, who have increasingly been driven by racists and bigots who oppose Britain taking in any refugees and want to abandon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the UK helped to draw up in 1947-8.

There were a small number of these bigots, members of the far-right group ‘Britain First’ in their para-military uniforms, who came to shout insults and make offensive gestures at the marchers as they went through Piccadilly Circus. A large ring of police kept them away from the marchers and protected them from any attack by anti-fascists.

Stand Up to Racism – Refugees Welcome march


Refugees Welcome Rally

Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean was killed by police in Brixton in 2008

At the end of the march there was a rally in Trafalgar Square, with a long list of speakers. They included Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy Hardy, MP Diane Abbott, MEPs Claude Moraes and Jean Lambert, journalist Journalist, writer Michael Rosen, leading trade unionists Dave Ward CWU, Christine Blower NUT, and Sally Hunt UCU, Marilyn Reed the mother of Sarah Reed, Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett and Marcia Rigg, Maz Saleem daughter of the Mohammed Saleem who was killed in a racist attack, Talha Ahmad of the Muslim Council of Britain and a young refugee from Iraq.

Refugees Welcome Rally


Australians protest on UN Anti-Racism day

Australian human rights protesters were holding protests at embassies around the world, including the Australian High Commission in London to condemn the Australian government’s racist immigration policy and treatment of refugees.

Refugees who try to claim asylum in Australia are locked up and detained indefinitely in contradiction to international law on remote Pacific Islands including Manus and Nauru in detention camps run by Serco and will never be allowed to resettle in Australia. The Australian protesters were joined by some of those from Movement for Justice which has led protests against the UK immigration detention centres, including that at Yarl’s Wood, run like the Australian camps by Serco, where detainees, also held indefinitely, have been sexually abused and denied proper health treatment. At least one prisoner in the Australian camps has been beaten to death by the prison guards.

Australians protest on UN Anti-Racism day


DPAC’s ‘IDS Resignation Party’

Finally on 19th March I went to Parliament Square for another human rights related event, where Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) were celebrating the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, one of the chief architects of the brutal Tory welfare policy that has caused them so much suffering, harm and deaths to disabled people.

Though they were pleased that IDS has gone, his policies remained, and his successor, Stephen Crabb, proved top be equally be bigoted and lacking compassion and any understanding of the needs of the poor and disabled.

DPAC’s ‘IDS Resignation Party’


More on all these events on My London Diary:
DPAC’s ‘IDS Resignation Party’
Australians protest on UN Anti-Racism day
Refugees Welcome Rally
Stand Up to Racism – Refugees Welcome march

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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For Refugee Rights and Against Trident

Sunday, February 27th, 2022

For Refugee Rights and Against Trident. I covered two marches in London on 27th February 2016, the first calling for safe passage for refugees seeking protection in Europe and following this a much larger march against government plans to waste £180 billion or more on replacing the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons.

European March for Refugee Rights

The European March for Refugee Rights was part of a day of protests in cities across Europe demanding action by governments to provide secure safe passage routes for all refugees and asylum seekers seeking protection in Europe. They want an end to deaths at borders and drownings and for refugees to be allowed to keep their possessions and be reunited with their families.

Among those taking part were people who had been to aid refugees in Lesvos and at the Calais camps and others who had volunteered with Medicins Sans Frontiers in Syria. The protest was supported by many groups including the Syria Solidarity Campaign, Solidarity with Refugees, London2Calais, Migrants’ Rights Network, SOAS Solidarity with Refugees & Displaced People Soc, Wonder Foundation, Calais Action, UK Action for Refugees, Refugee Aid Initiative, No Borders and the Greece Solidarity Campaign.

This was a short march taking place unusually inside Hyde Park, gathering at Hyde Park Corner and walking up to Speakers Corner where there was a rally. This made it possible for those taking part to join the Stop Trident Rally which was starting from Marble Arch, and going down Park Lane on its way to Trafalgar Square. Some of the marchers decided to form a block to march in front of the main Stop Trident banner and march on to Trafalgar Square.

Stop Trident march stewards tried briefly to stop them but then gave up and halted their march for around ten minutes to create a gap between the two groups.

European March for Refugee Rights


Stop Trident March

According to CND there were 60,000 people marching from Marble Arch to a mass rally in Trafalgar Square, and although their estimate may have been a little on the high side, this was definitely a very large protest, starting with a densely packed crowd on Park Lane. When the rally began in Trafalgar Square the tail of the march was still around half a mile away, and I think many gave up before reaching the rally as the streets leading to it became blocked.

Few people outside the military and arms manufacturers – probably the most powerful of all lobbies in the country can really believe the expenditure of £180 billion or more on replacing the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons is either necessary or cost-effective. The huge majority of nations in the world have no nuclear capability, and by December 2021, 59 states had ratified or acceded to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which entered into force on 22 January 2021.

Lindsey German, Stop the War, Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, SNP First Minister, Scotland and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas hold the Stop Trident banner

A national survey by Survation at the start of 2021 for CND showed 59% of the public supported the UK government signing up to the TPNW, including 50% of Conservative voters and 68% of Labour voters. An even higher 77% supported a ‘total ban on all nuclear weapons globally’ with majority support from young and old, in all regions of the country, from Conservative as well as Labour voters, leavers and remainers. The government remains resolutely opposed to the treaty.

This widespread opposition to nuclear weapons isn’t largely a matter of their cost but on both moral and pragmatic grounds. As CND say, using nuclear weapons would cause catastrophic global damage; these weapons of mass destruction don’t keep us safe and divert resources from essential spending on services like the NHS, schools and housing and “it is clearer than ever that real security for Britain requires addressing the risks posed by the climate emergency and pandemics on a global scale.

Stop Trident March


Stop Trident Rally

Trafalgar square was unusually packed for the long rally that followed the march, with people listening and applauding a long list of speakers, including Nicola Sturgeon, Caroline Lucas, Leanne Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Bruce Kent, Christine Blower, Mark Serwotka and Tariq Ali, as well as many less well-known names. There were many marchers who found it impossible to get into the square.

Nicola Sturgeon First Minister Scotland

All the speakers opposed the spending of an estimated £180 billion or more on renewal of Trident which they dismissed as out of date, totally irrelevant to our defence and a complete waste of money which could be put to so much better use providing proper jobs and services.

It was a long wait, around two hours standing in the cold for the final speech by Jeremy Corbyn who had earlier in the day been speaking in Sheffield and whose train had been a little delayed. He was greeted by a tremendous response from the crowd, and gave a rousing speech to end the protest on a high note. Despite the dismissive remarks from many political commentators on the media, Corbyn is one of the most powerful political speakers of current years.

Stop Trident Rally


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Refugee Children, Dead Cyclists & A Squat

Friday, February 11th, 2022

Refugee Children, Dead Cyclists & A Squat – 11th February 2017

Dubs Now – Shame on May

Five years ago, on Saturday 11th February 2017, a crowd of supporters of Citizens UK and Safe Passage joined Lord Alf Dubs at Downing St to take a petition to Theresa May urging her to reverse the decision to stop offering legal sanctuary to unaccompanied refugee children.

The Tory government had been forced into an unusual humanitarian response when Parliment passed the Dubs amendment, and they were then given a list of over 800 eligible children – although there were known to be more whose details were not recorded. And because of Lord Dubs, around 300 have been allowed into the UK. But although twice that number remain in limbo, many in the Calais camps, Prime Minister Theresa May decided to end the scheme.

Lord Dubs speaks

Among those who spoke at the protest before an emergency petition with over 40,000 signatures was taken to Downing St were speakers from four London Labour councils who all said they had told the government they would take more children but their offers had not been taken up.

Dubs Now – Shame on May


Invest in Cycling – Stop Killing Cyclists

Cyclists and supporters met in Trafalgar Square to march to the Treasury on the edge of Parliament Square to call for a significant increase in spending on infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians on our streets.

That week five people were killed on London streets as a result of careless or dangerous driving – accidents are rare, but such deaths are made much more likely by a road system engineered around the needs of car and other vehicle drivers and cutting their journey times through the city. Facilities for cyclists and pedestrians have long been treated as secondary and chronically underfunded.

But these 5 killed, who were remembered in the protest and die-in are a small fraction of the numbers who die prematurely each week in London as a result of high and often illegal levels of air pollution – estimated at around 180 per week, as well as the much higher number of those whose lives are seriously affected by health problems – both figures including many who drive. Powerful lobbies for motorists and vehicle manufacturers have led to the domination of our cities by cars and lorries.

There are huge health benefits from cleaning the air by cutting down traffic and congestion, and also by encouraging healthy activities including walking and cycling. And the main factor discouraging people from taking to bikes for journeys to school, work and shopping etc is the danger from cars and lorries. Better public transport also helps, particularly in cutting pollution levels, and anything that cuts the use of petrol and diesel vehicles will reduce the major contribution this makes to global warming.

Invest in Cycling – Stop Killing Cyclists


ANAL squat in Belgravia

My final event that day was a visit to 4 Grosvenor Gardens, a rather grand house short distance from Buckingham Palace (and more relevant to me, from Victoria Station.) Squatting collective the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians (ANAL) had taken over this house on February 1st after having been evicted from the Belgrave Square house owned by Russian oligarch Andrey Goncharenko which they occupied for a week.

I’d meant to go there a week earlier, but a domestic emergency had called me away earlier in the day from a protest at the US Embassy before a programme of workshops and seminars in the seven-storey squat had begun. There was nothing special happening on the afternoon I visited (though some things were happening in the evening) but I was welcomed by the occupiers, several of whom recognised me, and they were happy for me to wander around the building and take photographs.

Apart from being careful to respect the privacy of some of the occupiers who were sleeping or resting in a couple of the rooms I was able to go everywhere from the basement to the top floor, but the door leading onto the roof was locked, probably to stop any possible access from there by bailiffs. Like many other houses and hotels in the area it has a view into the grounds of Buckingham Palace, but I had to make do with the view from a rather dusty window, or the less interesting view from lower down where windows could be opened.

Few squats have blue plaques – this one for soldier and archaeologist Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, but more recently it has been in use for offices, business meetings and conferences. The squatters have tried hard to cause no serious damage and had last week turned out some people who had come to make a mess of the place.

There are around 1.5 million empty buildings in the UK, many like this deliberately kept empty as investments, their value increasing year on year. The number is enough to enough to house the homeless many times over. ANAL say that properties like this should be used for short-term accommodation while they remain empty and they have opened it as a temporary homeless shelter for rough-sleepers.

It remained in use for almost month, with the squat finally evicted at 8am on 27th February. As I ended my post, “There clearly does need to be some way to bring empty properties back into use, and councils should have much greater powers than at present to do so. Until that happens, squatting seems to be the only possible solution.”

ANAL squat in Belgravia


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Margareta D’Arcy, Education and Africans in Israel

Saturday, January 22nd, 2022

Margareta D’Arcy, Education and Africans in Israel
Three protests on Wednesday 22nd January 2014

Release Margaretta D’Arcy Now! Irish Embassy

Selma James calls for the release of Margaretta D’Arcy

I don’t think my path has ever crossed, at least not knowingly, with that of ‘Guantanamo Granny’ Margaretta D’Arcy, though Facebook tells me we have 163 mutual friends. My eldest brother, around her age but long since dead, may well have sat down with her on Whitehall with Bertrand Russell’s Committee of 100 back in 1961. Her life has been “decades of playwriting, acting, pageantry, pirate radio, books, peace activism, protest and imprisonment whilst bringing up her family of boys. She addresses Irish nationalism, civil liberties and women’s rights.”

Her political activities led to imprisonment in Northern India, in Armagh, in Holloway (for protests at Greenham Common against Cruise missiles.) This protest came after she was due in court after being jailed for lying down on the runway at Shannon in a peaceful direct action by members of Galway Alliance Against War against the use since 2001 of Shannon by US war planes in violation of Irish neutrality – and she served three months for refusing to sign a bond against further trespass on the airport.

The protest at the Irish Embassy called for her immediate release and was supported by organisations including the Global Women’s Strike, Troops out of Ireland, Winvisible, Women of Colour, Kilburn Stop the War, Labour Caribbean Solidarity, Payday Men’s Network, Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group.

Students march to protect Education

London University Students held a peaceful protest to show they intend to keep up their protests for democratic, public education free from exploitation and police violence and to support university cleaners on a 3-day strike for ‘3 Cosas’ – sick pay, holidays and pensions – and for recognition of their trade union, the IWGB.

After a rally outside the University of London Union in Malet St they marched on a tour of key sites including Senate House, the University & Colleges Employers Association in Woburn House in Tavistock Square, Holborn Police station, where they protested loudly against police violence and in particular at the execution by police of Mark Duggan and ending with another short rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

At the Tavistock Square offices, a few of those in a black block at the front of the march made a brief token entry into the lobby, accompanied by rather more photographers and videographers, and some paint was thrown at the outside of the building, hitting several protesters and photographers.

Solidarity with African Refugees in Israel

People protested close to the Israeli Embassy in response to a call by African asylum seekers for international action to support their protests against the arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and inhumane treatment of refugees inside Israel.

Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers have been protesting on the streets of Israel since the beginning of the month, holding mass rallies against their treatment by the Israeli authorities. New laws mean anyone entering the country without proper papers to be held for up to a year without trial, and for those who are already in the country to be held in infinite detention, at a detention facility in the Negev desert which like many other Israeli prisons is run by the private security company G4S.

Although there are around 50,000 African refugees in Israel, only a few hundred have had their applications processed. Most live illegally on the streets, taking whatever work is available in the ‘black economy’, with constant exploitation and threat of arrest. A recent strike by those working as cleaners, cooks, dishwashers and other low paid workers had brought many restaurants, hotels and businesses to a standstill.

Police tried to move the protesters to the opposite side of the busy main road, still further from the embassy which is in a private street, but they refused to move. Eventually police gave up and brought some cones from across the road to allow others to pass the growing protest in safety.

More on all these on My London Diary:

Solidarity with African Refugees in Israel
Students march to protect Education
Release Margaretta D’Arcy Now!


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A Table, Climate Red Lines, Refugees & Santas

Sunday, December 12th, 2021

Free the Focus E15 Table

Housing activists Focus E15 had been an irritant to Newham Council and its mayor Robin Wales ever since the group of young mothers fought the threat to close their hostel and scatter them across the country away from family and friends. Their high profile campaign with direct actions gained national coverage and admiration and after their succesful fight they continued as a ‘Housing For All’ campaign giving support to others with housing problems, particularly in their London borough of Newham.

Every Saturday the group hold a street stall on Stratford Broadway on a wide area of pavement outside Wilko every Saturday for over 2 years offering advice to those with housing problems and drawing attention to the failure of Newham Council to sensibly address the acute housing problem in the borough.

In 2015 there were around 5,000 people living in temporary accommodation despite 400 homes in good condition empty on the Carpenters Estate close to the centre of Stratford which the council began clearing around ten years previously in the hope of selling the site for development. They continue to oppose the council policy of attempting to force those needing housing out of London and into private rented property in towns and cities across the country- Hastings, Birmingham, Manchester etc – and even in Wales, socially cleansing the borough which now has large new developments of expensive high rise flats.

A week earlier, Newham Council’s Law Enforcement officer came with police to continue their harassment of the street stall, telling them they were not allowed to protest and threatening to seize their stall, sound system, banners and other gear. Focus E15 resisted but police seized the table and threw it into the back of their van. A few days later, the council having realised the seizure was illegal wrote to the campaign asking them to reclaim their table. Focus E15 asked for it to be delivered back to where it had been taken, and had already organised this ‘Free The Table’ rally with people coming to defend the right to protest. That table didn’t arrive but others had come with them for a ‘tablegate’ protest.

Free the Focus E15 Table

Climate Activists Red Line protest

Back in Westminster, the Campaign Against Climate Change was protesting against the inadequacy of the COP21 Paris deal, which sets the target temperature rise too high and has no way to enforce the measures needed by carrying a ‘red line’ banner across Westminster Bridge.

The protest with a 300 metre length of red cloth and the short rally beforehand emphasized that “the world needs to take urgent action to keep fossil fuels – including shale oil, with fracking now shown to be as dirty as coal – in the ground, or at least only to be extracted as chemical feedstock rather than fuel, and an increased urgency in the transition to renewable energy. While a few years ago that might have seemed expensive and not feasible, the economics of energy generation have changed rapidly with green energy rapidly becoming the cheaper source. But huge vested interests still lie behind the dirty fuel lobby.”

Climate Activists Red Line protest

Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees

As darkness fell, refugees, solidarity campaigners and Syrian activists at a Downing St vigil demanded justice for refugees, opening of EU borders to those fleeing war and terrorism and a much more generous response from the UK government. Six years later many of us remain ashamed and disgusted at the miserable response of the Tory government to refugees from Syria and more recently from Afghanistan. The UK has been so much less generous than many other countries and is increasingly adopting a more hostile attitude to asylum seekers, particularly now those attempting to cross the English Channel.

A strong wind made it difficult to keep the candles for this vigil alight, and though eventually this was solved by using plastic cups as wind shields it made the candles less photogenic.

Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees

Santas in London

While I was photographing the climate protest on Westminster Bridge, a large group of Santas on BMX bikes rode across and I rushed to photograph them. Later I found this was an annual BMX Life Christmas ‘Santa Cruise’ in aid of ECHO, a small charity helping kids with heart conditions.

Later as I walked through Trafalgar Square on my way to catch a bus I came across more Santas, coming to the end of the their ‘Santacon’ which I described a few posts back as a “day-long alcohol-fuelled crawl through London”. I’d been too busy to bother with going to photograph the event earlier in the day, but spent a few minutes taking pictures before seeing my bus approach and running to the stop.

Santas in London


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October 13th 2001-2015

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

Thinking about events I had photographed on October 13th I found rather a lot over the years – so here are links to some of them from 2001-2015.

There are just a few black and white pictures from the October 2001 Stop The War March in London. Back in 2001 I was still working on film, and although I had taken pictures in both black and white and colour I only had a black and white scanner.


By 2003 I was working with a digital camera, a Nikon D100, and on the 13th October I joined another thousand or so people from around the country to say ‘No to GMO’. Most of the work being done on genetic modification was aimed at increasing the profits of companies and at locking farmers into using patented seeds which had to be purchased from them and which required expensive chemical inputs and would penalise or even lead to prosecutions of those who continued with traditional methods, particularly organic farmers, and severely reduce bio-diversity. The protesters were largely concerned about the possible risks of genetic modifications that were not being subjected to thorough long-term testing. The government seemed simply to be preparing to give way to commercial pressures.

The protesters went first to the National Farmers Union, then to Downing Street (or rather outside the gates to Downing Street) then on past the Houses of Parliament to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in Smith Square. The digital pictures I was making then seem rather dark and muted and processing software then was still rather poor.


It was 2007 before I photographed anything at all relevant on 13 October again, and this time I was on a walk about The Romance of Bethnal Green, a book by Cathy Ross, which had included a number of my pictures from the 1980s.

In 2008 came ‘Climate Rush – Deeds Not Words’:


Exactly 100 years ago, more than 40 women were arrested in the ‘Suffragete Rush’ as they attempted to enter The Houses of Parliament. To mark this centenary, women concerned with the lack of political action to tackle climate change organised and led a rally in Parliament Square, calling for “men and women alike” to stand together and support three key demands:

  No airport expansion.
  No new coal-fired power stations.
  The creation of policy in line with the most recent climate science and research.

Those attending were asked to wear white, and many dressed in ways that reflected the styles of a century ago, and wore red sashes with the words ‘Reform Climate Policy’, ‘No New Coal’ ‘Climate Code Red’ and ‘No Airport Expansion’, with campaigners against a second runway at Stansted having their own ‘Suffrajets’ design. We were also offered fairy buns with ‘Deeds Not Words’ and ‘Climate Bill Now’

It was a protest that brought together some fairly diverse groups, including the Women’s Institute and the Green Party as well as Climate Rush, who, led by Tamsin Omond tried to storm their way in to the Houses of Parliament like their Suffragette predecessors, but were stopped by police. She was later arrested, not for this action but for breach of her bail conditions from the ‘Plane Stupid’ roof-top protest at the Houses of Parliament 8 months earlier.


On 13th October 2012, Zombies invaded London in a charity event, to “raise the dead and some dough in aid of St. Mungo’s“, a charity which reaches out to rough sleepers and helps them off the streets.

I went on from there to the steps of St Pauls, where on the first anniversary of their attempt to occupy the Stock Exchange, Occupy London joined a worldwide day of protest, #GlobalNoise, by the Occupy movement, to target the “political and financial elites who are held responsible for destroying our communities and the planet, resonating the ongoing wave of anti-austerity protests in Europe and around the world. At the same time #GlobalNoise is a symbol of hope and unity, building on a wide variety of struggles for global justice and solidarity, assuring that together we will create another world.

From a rally at St Paul’s they went on to sit down at a few places around the City, before crossing London Bridge heading for an undisclosed location to occupy for the weekend. Some wanted to occupy the ‘Scoop’ next to City Hall, but others felt it wasn’t suitable. A group went on to block Tower Bridge, but then returned to join others at Scoop.

In 2015 the Zionist Federation organised a protest outside the Palestinian Authority UK Mission against the stabbings of Jews in Israel. Jewish and other groups supporting Palestinian resistance to occupation and Israeli terror came along to protest against all violence against both Jews and Palestinians in Israel and for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.


I left while the two protests were continuing to shout at each other to join the candlelit vigil at Parliament by Citizens UK calling for 1000 Syrian refugees to be resettled in the UK before Christmas and 10,000 a year for the next 5 years. Six children froze to death in the camps last year and many in the UK have offered homes and support.

Refugees and Corbyn Welcome – 2015

Sunday, September 12th, 2021

Saturday 12th September 2015 was both the day that the Labour Leadership election results were being announced and also of a large demonstration with over 50,000 people of all ages from across the UK marching through London to show their support for refugees facing death and hardship and their disgust at the lack of compassion and inadequate response of the British government.

People celebrate Corbyn’s landslide victory

It had been clear from the start of the leadership election that Labour MPs were completely out of touch with the mood of the party and of the country after five years of cuts made by the coalition government. A number of those who had given Corbyn the nomination needed for him to stand in the election had only done so with the expectation that it would lead to a humiliating defeat for him and the left, and even those who truly supported him had done so with no hope of victory. Corbyn himself had almost certainly not expected to do well, and had probably only allowed his arm to be twisted to stand after being told it was his turn to do so.

When opinion polls indicated Corbyn was the front runner, many Labour MPs panicked, with leading New Labour figures including Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Miliband all over the media saying his election would be a disaster, making the party unelectable. It was the beginning of a long campaign against him both in public and with many dirty tricks in private that resulted in Labour losing the 2017 and 2019 elections. The result of the leadership election, with a resounding 59.5% for Corbyn, three times that of his nearest rival seemed definitive proof they were wrong (and was confirmed by an increased vote of 61.8% in the 2016 leadership challenge) but the plots and back-stabbing continued to ensure defeat in the 2017 general election. But it was a close thing and Starmer and his Brexit policies were needed to make sure Labour lost dramatically in 2019 and could begin the process of purging the party of socialists.

People in Park Lane for the Refugees Are Welcome march

When Corbyn’s vote was announced I was with a crowd of a couple of hundred Corbyn supporters in Hyde Park, with around as many media people, including many TV crews. I’d taken a position before the announcement sitting on the grass with many of them behind me, but both the supporters and the media went wild, photographers and TV crews knocking me flying as I tried to get up and join the rush to get closer to where the champagne corks were popping. All the usual niceties of media scrums went tothe wind and my gear was scattered. I still managed to get a few pictures.

Maimuna Jawo a refugee from Gambia

Most of those celebrating Corbyn’s victory were like me also waiting for the start of the Refugees Welcome Here march protesting against the government’s failure to respond to the huge numbers of refugees seeking asylum in Europe, risking their lives to travel across the Mediterreanean and other dangerous routes to reach safety from civil wars and persecution. Countries on the front lines of these escape routes are flooded with more refugees than they can cope with, and while some other European countries have taken large numbers of refugees the UK has resisted doing so. Many want to come here as they speak English or have relatives or friends already in this country.

Speaker after speaker on a stage in Park Lane gave damning condemnation of the UK government to act humanely and to meet its international obligations. On My London Diary I list most of those I heard: Jean Lambert, MEP; Claude Moraes; Sabby Dhalu; Zita Holborne of BARAC; Maurice Wren from the Refugee Council; Kevin Courtney, NUT; Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron MP; Antonia Bright of Movement for Justice, Maimuna Jawo, Women for Refugee Women; Zrinka Bralo, Citizens UK; and Sam Fairbairn of People’s Assembly Against Austerity.

Park Lane was packed with people along its length and I walked though to the head of the march at its southern end and went with it for the first couple of hundred yards into Piccadilly, where I stopped to photograph the rest of the march as it came past. Fairly densely packed and spreading across the whole of the roadway (and sometimes on to the pavement) it took exactly an hour to go past me.

I took the tube from Green Park to Westminster and arrived just in time to meet the head of the march as it got to Downing St, going with it from there the short distance to its end in Parliament Square, which soon filled up. I photographed more marchers arriving and coming down Whitehall and Parliament Street and then realised I was rather tired and hungry. I sat down on a wall and had a late sandwich lunch before deciding I’d heard enoough speeches and taking the train home.

More at:
Refugees Welcome march reaches Parliament
Refugees are welcome here march
Rally Says Refugees Welcome Here
Victory Party for Jeremy Corbyn


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.


A Wet Day at Yarls Wood

Friday, September 10th, 2021

Five years ago Movement for Justice organised a protest outside Yarls Wood on Saturday 10th September 2016, and I took the train to Bedford where there was a coach to make the five mile or so journey to the remote site on a former WW2 airfield, now a business park. Unfortunately it is so remote that the coach driver didn’t know the way, and we ended up making a lengthy detour and arriving over half an hour later than we should have done.

The coach set us off as usual on the road outside the Twinwoods Business Park entrance, around 3/4 mile from the Immigration Removal Centre. A rally was taking place on the grass there while waiting for everyone to arrive.

Eventually we set off marching down the road to the public footpath that leads along mainly muddy tracks beside several fields to that beside the immigration prison. The prison has a 20ft high fence around it, the first 10ft with solid metal sheeting and the upper half with a thick gauze through which we could see the women at the windows welcoming and signalling to us.

The field rises up quite steeply from the fence, enabling us to see the two top floors of the nearest wing of the centre, a private prison run by Serco. Going further back the lower floor where famiilies were housed became partly visible. Those held inside are in indefinite detention, never knowing when they will be released or deported – and one woman was kept locked in there for just one day less than three years.


Many of the supporters of Movement for Justice have previously been held in this or similar detention prisons, and a number of them spoke at the protest about their experiences inside. We also heard from some of the women inside, who unlike those in our normal jails, are allowed mobile phones. Some told us how Serco security guards had prevented them from coming to the windows and were threatening those who greeted the protesters with solitary confinement.


Other groups from around the country had come to support the protest, and among them were Latin American women and Sisters Uncut, who at one point provided a display of coloured flares from the top of the hill. Unfortunately be the time I had clambered up to muddy slope to take pictures it was past its peak.


The rain continued, though fortunately it was not too heavy, but the slope towards the fence meant that some areas were waterlogged and others were slippery mud. It was a noisy protest as people shouted and kicked the fence and battered it with branches. On my way back to the coach I went to take a look at the real wood called Yarl’s Wood to the south. I’d hoped I might find another view of the prison, but was disappointed. it seemed a shame that such a peaceful wood should be mired by taking its name for this shameful immigration prison.

Many more pictures at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood on My London Diary.

Close Down Yarl’s Wood: 2015

Sunday, August 8th, 2021

I’m not sure what is happening at Yarl’s Wood now. Temporary huts were erected there to house destitute asylum seekers at the beginning of 2021, but abandoned in February by the Home Office after a legal challenge and a local and national outcry. In 2020 it’s purpose was changed from holding women to holding men, and there were reports that most of the women had been removed, but according to the Asylum Information Database there were 238 asylum seekers still held there at the end of 2020. Both Home Office and Serco web sites appear to lack any information. Six years ago today, on 8th August 2015 I attended a protest there and wrote the following report, illustrated here with just a few pictures from the many in the original My London Diary post.


Yarl’s Wood Immigration prison, Bedford. Sat 8 Aug 2015

Around a thousand protesters in a field adjoining the detention centre joined with detainees locked up in Yarl’s Wood to demand an end to immigration detention and the whole racist system which locks up migrants and asylum seekers without trial, subjecting them to abuse and sexual harassment.

Coaches came from around the country to drop protesters outside the business estate on a former aerodrome in the middle of the country around five miles from Bedford, and a coach from Bedford Station made two journeys from there to bring myself and the others who had arrived by train. Others made their journey there by taxi, car and bicycle, and a few by bus, which dropped them at the centre of a village around a mile away.

The protest was organised by Movement for Justice and there is a long list of other groups that supported it and the campaign to close detention centres, though I think there were also others present: Women for Refugee Women, Right To Remain, CheltFems, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, All African Womens Group, Refugee Support Devon, Exeter City of Sanctuary, London Palestine Action, Diásporas Criticas, South London Anti Fascists, No One Is Illegal, Jewish Socialist Group, Left Unity, CUSU Women’s Campaign, Freedom Without Fear Platform, Black Dissidents, Feminist Fightback, Women’s Association for the Guild of Students, University of Birmingham, Unite Hotel Workers Branch, Plan C, Birmingham, Leeds Feminist Network, Sisters Uncut, SOAS Unison.

The protest started next to the road at the front of the estate to give time for all the protesters to arrive, and then walked along a public bridleway which goes close to the detention centre. The protesters were allowed into a field which ran along the side of the high fence around the centre for today’s protest – at a previous protest they had pushed down fences and breached barbed wire to get to the fence.

There was a rapturous welcome from the women inside the prison, who came to the windows, shouting and waving and holding up signs. Protests like this really give the prisoners hope, and show them they have support and are not forgotten. Together, inside and out people chanted slogans ‘Shut Down Yarls Wood’, ‘Detention Centres, Shut them Down’ and more.

A small rise in the field help us see the windows on the first floor and above despite the fence, solid for around 10ft with another 10ft of mesh on top. People banged it to make a noise, kicked it, and banged it with pots and pans, and some climbed on others shoulders to lift up banners and placards so those inside could see.

Then a group of people wearing face masks began to write slogans on the fence, and soon a long length of it was covered with them ‘No Borders’, ‘No One is Illegal’ ‘#SetHerFree’, ‘Shut it Down’, ‘Gaza 2 Yarls Wood Destroy Apartheid Walls’, ‘Racist Walls’ and more.

Inside the women waved. The windows open to a small gap and one woman waved her leg though it, decorated with paper tied around. Others waved clothing and held up signs, some with slogans like those held up and shouted by the people outside. One carefully drawn one read ‘We Want Freedom – No Human Is Illegal – Close Yarls Wood’ while another simply read ‘Help’.

The organisers had mobile numbers for some of those inside – and others inside wrote theirs large and held them up in the window. We were able to hear greetings and reports from some of those inside, their voices on the phone amplified on the megaphone.

They too could hear the speeches from outside, including several by women who had been held with them inside the prison. Many are held for long periods in this and other detention centres, never knowing when they might be let out – or an attempt made to send them back to the country they were desperate to escape from.

Too soon we had to leave. And they had to stay. As I walked away to catch the coach back to Bedford station I felt ashamed at the way that my country treats asylum seekers. They deserve support and humanity and get treated worse than criminals.


Many more pictures at Close Down Yarl’s Wood.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.