Posts Tagged ‘windows’

Yarls Wood – Shut It Down

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

Yarls Wood – Shut It Down – Saturday 24th March 2018 saw another protest outside Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, calling for all immigration detention centres to be closed down.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

It was the 13th protest there organised by Movement for Justice, but on this occasion other groups including Sisters Uncut had also organised separately to come to the event and hold their own slightly distanced protest, following serious allegations about the way MfJ worked and had behaved, particularly to one woman who had been one of their high-profile members, but also a number of others including some of the migrants they had supported.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

I had been shocked to hear of the allegations, but not particularly surprised. I admired both the work MfJ had done over the years in leading the protests against our racist immigration system and the contribution of the woman activist concerned who I had met and photographed at a number of protests.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

But I had been long aware that MfJ was led by Trotskyists, members of the Revolutionary International League, including several white activists, having been set up by them in London in the 1990s to confront racism and fascism. So I knew that like all such groups knew they would enforce disciplines to back the party line at least on its inner members, so the revelations came as no surprise to me.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

Of course I don’t condone these actions, though I was in no position to judge on the truth of some of the allegations, but it seemed to me the most important things was that protests against our racist immigration system should continue and should be effective. For some years MfJ had been the main group taking effective action against immigration deportation flights and immigration prisons. I was pleased that the controversy actually seemed to have prompted other groups to organise and protest on this occasion and for later events.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

The protest followed much the same pattern as the others I’ve attended at Yarl’s Wood, except that the protesters spread out a little more along the slope and the fence with some wishing to distance themselves from MfJ and their PA system. And, at least while I was there, all of those who spoke over this to the protesters and the women inside were former asylum seekers who had themselves been detained, many inside Yarl’s Wood. And inside Yarls Wood there seemed to be more women able to come to the windows and join in the protest.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

I’d also gone slightly better prepared so far as equipment was concerned, as I now had a 300mm Nikon lens and a camera on which I could use it either in full-frame format or switch to DX, which made it a 450mm equivalent and still get files of sufficient size for publication. Shooting through the wire mesh of the top 10ft of the 20ft fence still made focus hard – and autofocus reliably settled on the mesh rather than the windows behind, so I had to resort to manual focus. But at least the windows didn’t move, which made this fairly easy.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

This time too we had a coach driver who knew the way and arrived in plenty of time for me to photograph the events on the road before the march to the prison. But it also meant I had to leave a little before the event had concluded to catch the train back to the station. I think for later protests I brought my folding bike so I could easily (or fairly easily as there is a long climb up from the A6 to Twinwoods and the meeting point) make my own way the five or six miles to and from Bedford station.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

The weather was good to us this time, but there had been heavy rain earlier in the week leaving at least one giant puddle we had to walk round on the way to the prison fence, and making the slope on which the protest was taking place rather treacherous.

Yarls Wood - Shut It Down

More pictures from the protest on My London Diary at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood.


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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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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.