Posts Tagged ‘Yarl's Wood’

Shut down Yarl’s Wood Immigration Prison – 2017

Monday, May 13th, 2024

Shut down Yarl’s Wood Immigration Prison: Saturday 13th May 2017 was the 11th protest outside Yarl’s Wood in the Movement for Justice campaign to shut down this and other immigration detention centres.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

For once the weather was fine and there was little or no mud in the field facing the prison. And for some reason – perhaps the windows had been cleaned – we could see the detainees more clearly than on some previous occasions. And I seem to have written rather more clearly than on some occasions about the day – so here I’ll just reproduce the text from My London Diary, with a few of the pictures.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

I’d caught the train from St Pancras to Bedford as usual, but instead of waiting for the MfJ bus had brought my Brompton, so could just jump on it and cycle towards Yarlswood. It was a ride of around 6 miles, mainly along side roads or on cycle paths beside busier roads, and it was a pleasant enough ride, though Yarl’s Wood is on a former airfield on a plateau rather higher than the city, and so it was uphill quite a lot of the way. And the climb up from the nearest village, Milton Ernest, was rather long and steep, though at least I didn’t have to bother about traffic, as the police had closed the road. But I was a little out of breath and tired as I arrived.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

But Yarl’s Wood really is in the middle of nowhere, making those inside feel very isolated, and visits to them by anyone without a car are tedious and expensive for those on low income. So events like this are important in reminding those inside that they have not been forgotten.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

There were several hundreds of people already at the roadside – and a long row of coaches that had brought them there, and there were speeches and chanting while they waited for others to arrive.

Most of the detainees are women, but there are men in a family section of the prison

From the road there is still a long walk along field edges following a public footpath, around three-quarters of a mile. Parts of this were heavy going on the Brompton, not designed for off-road use, and I did have to walk part of the way, as well as occasionally stopping to photograph the marchers, now around a thousand strong.

When the protesters arrived at the field in front of the tall fence around the centre, they were welcomed by shouts and waving from those imprisoned inside who held up messages calling for justice in the narrow slits the windows open. Only those who could get to the upper windows on the block facing the fence could see the protest, but others inside could certainly hear it.

There were speeches from former detainees, including several women who had been held at Yarl’s Wood, including Mabel Gawanas who was recently released a few days short of 3 years inside, and other former immigration detainees. People kicked on the fence to make a terrific racket and held up banners, posters and placards to show the detainees in what the protesters describe as as ‘racist, sexist hell-hole’ they have not been forgotten. Some inside spoke to the protest by mobile phone.

Some of the protesters climbed ladders to hold banners and placards above the first solid 10 feet of the 20 foot fence, while others had long poles or lit flares to make the protest more visible. A few yards back from the fence where the ground slopes up we could see those at the windows and photograph them through the mesh fence, though it wasn’t easy.

I left as the protest began to draw to a close, cycling back along the footpath to the road and then enjoying the long downhill stretch to the village and the main road. But I had to pay for this, as a short uphill modern stretch of road off stretched me almost to exhaustion. 40 metres doesn’t sound a lot, but feels in on a bike. And while the road up from Milton Ernest does the climb at a fairly sensible rate, Oakley Hill up from the A6 is at least twice as steep. I should have got off and walked, but pride doesn’t allow it unless it becomes really impossible. For some reason my three-speed gear had decided to be a two speed gear, but probably it wouldn’t have helped here as I think it was only the top gear I was missing – and I needed something considerably lower. But after than it was downhill most of the way to Bedford and a train probably an hour earlier than had I been on the bus.

More pictures at Shut down Yarl’s Wood Prison,


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Badgers, Yarls Wood & Ukraine – 2014

Wednesday, March 13th, 2024

Badgers, Yarls Wood & Ukraine – Three protests in Westminster on Thursday 13 March 2014.


Badger Army Says End Culls – Old Palace Yard

Badgers, Yarls Wood & Ukraine

Bovine TB is a great problem for dairy farmers and the great majority of them are convinced that badgers play an important role in spreading it, although scientists estimate that around 94% of all infections are spread from cow to cow. A major part of the problem is that the test used for the disease in cows fails to detect a large proportion – perhaps a third – of infected cows.

Badgers, Yarls Wood & Ukraine
Bill Oddie

Around 20,000 cows are slaughtered each year because they are found to be infected and compensating the farmers costs us over £100 million a year. The Badger Trust argues in a report based on scientific evidence that a more effective approach than culling would be to focus on “cattle, cattle testing and vaccination and enhanced cattle biosecurity (including cattle movement).”

Badgers, Yarls Wood & Ukraine

There is no scientific consensus that the killing of 260,000 badgers since 2013 has had any effect on the spread of the disease. DEFRA continues to support badger culling but Labour in 2023 pledged to end it if elected – though they have already drawn back from most of their pledges.

Badgers, Yarls Wood & Ukraine

The cull has provoked strong emotions on both sides and this protest on a day when MPs were discussing the cull reflected that. You can read more about it and see more pictures on My London Diary at Badger Army Says End Culls.


End Persecution & Sexual Abuse at Yarl’s Wood – Home Office, Marsham St

A short walk away outside our “dysfunctional” and Home Office – then under Theresa May and her racist “hostile environment” policy – a protest called for an end to the psychological, sexual, physical and legal abuse of women asylum seekers and immigrants held at Yarl’s Wood and for the detention centre to be closed down.

Many women have made complaints of sexual abuse by male prison staff at the centre, and one who was awarded compensation was was horrified to learn that the man who abused her was still working there, free to commit further offences.

The protest took place following reports of the disappearance of a detainee called Saba from Pakistan, who women in Yarl’s Wood believe had committed suicide there. It was supported by the Movement for Justice, Southall Black Sisters and the All African Women’s Group, and protesters included women who had been held in the detention centre while their asylum claims were being considered.

In my account on My London Diary I give more details about her and also of the cases of a political refugee from Mali who had been illegally deported back there in the previous month, and a Kurdish trade union activist also illegally deported by the Home Office and then in hiding in Turkey where she had attempted suicide.

There had been many other reports of violence against women the centre, and the protest organisers stated:

Yarl’s Wood women are fighting back against attempts to deport them or their sisters to persecution and death and exposing sexual abuse by male staff. The frightened response of the Home Office and its agents is to increase the repression in Yarl’s Wood, breaching even the present, inadequate legal rights of detainees and creating an environment that can drive women to suicide.”

The protest called for a public inquiry into abuses at Yarl’s Wood and for it to be shut down.

End Sexual Abuse at Yarl’s Wood


Ukraine Vigil – Downing St

Finally I went to Downing Street where on the pavement opposite Ukrainians had set up a permanent vigil, hoping to get the UK Government to stand up against Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea.

There wasn’t a great deal happening during my brief visit, and I was correct to think that the UK government would take anything but half-hearted action. To do more might hurt the City’s financial interests – and those of some leading Tory MPs and their family businesses. The failure of the west to end its aggressive Cold War attitudes to Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was bound to have highly poisonous repercussions. We should have welcomed the country into our sphere and dismissed the NATO hawks.

A few more pictures at Ukraine Vigil.


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Shut Down Yarl’s Wood – 2016

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood – Saturday 12th March 2016 saw one of the largest protests outside the Immigration Detention Centre at Yarl’s Wood with well over a thousand people from around the country waving and shouting support to the women asylum seekers held indefinitely inside, who responded enthusiastically by shouting and waving back from the prison blocks behind the high fence, hindered by windows that hardly open. There were many among the protesters who had themselves been locked up in Yarls Wood or other detention centres.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

My day began badly, with a cancelled train and then a coach driver for the five or six mile journey from Bedford Station to the isolated prison who got lost and took us for a 20 mile mystery tour through rural Bedfordshire, meaning we arrived rather late for the protest.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

We arrived just in time for the final few minutes of the rally by Movement for Justice, the organisers of the protest, outside the locked gates of the Twinwoods Business Centre. An shortly after the protesters set off for the long march down the road and along a public footpath to a field on a slight rise adjoining the prison where the main protest was to take place.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

It was dry and sunny, but there had been a week of rain and the fields we walked past were full of puddles and the rise in front of the 20 foot prison fence was extremely treacherous and hard to climb. Alongside the metal fence was a concrete path but then a few feet of churned up mud before the slippery slope.

Shut Down Yarl's Wood

At the bottom the lower 10ft of the fence is solid metal sheeting, so there you have no view of the prison. but can make a considerable noise by banging or kicking the fence. On top of the slope you can see the upper floors of the closest prison block, and from there we could make out those prisoners who had managed to get to the windows and were shouting greetings and some holding out notices though the small gap – just large enough for a hand to go through – that the windows open.

Unfortunately the windows reflect the sky and in the bright weather we could only see dimly those inside. Further along the rise we could see a little of the ground floor of the detention centre, and here the views were a little clearer. This part of the immigration prison was then being used for families, while the rest ws a women’s prison.

The regime in immigration detention differs from that in our other prisons and in one respect is worse. Those inside are held indefinitely and have no way of knowing when they might be released. And their detention can be very lengthy with one woman held there for three years less a couple of days. Many have seen this as totally unacceptable and called for a maximum length of detention of 28 days as is the case in some other countries.

But the detainees alhtough kept as prisoners are allowed to have mobile phones which they need to communicate with solicitors and others dealing with their immigration cases. And the protesters were able to phone some of the women inside and the calls could be linked to the public address system brought to the protest so they could tell something of their stories.

Those held in immigration detention are not criminals and few have or would commit any criminal offences. Many indeed have been victims of criminal attacks, violence and rape, or face these if they are deported back to their home countries. They all want to be allowed to live and work here, to contribute their skills to our country and pay our taxes. There is no need to keep them locked away. But we have a racist immigration regime that treats them as criminals and liars and shows little evidence of any humanity – but much of indifference, incompetence and unnecessary delays.

The goverment outsources their detention to private companies and various investigations and reports have shown the lack of care, mistreatment and even sexual harassment and violence in this and other centres. Rather than shutting them down and moving to a more humane system the government have now moved those who might otherwise been in Yarl’s Wood to a far more remote location to make protests harder to organise.

The pictures and text, including some captions, on My London Diary tell more about what what happened at the protest: Shut Down Yarl’s Wood.


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Blizzard, Education and Hunger Strike – 2018

Wednesday, February 28th, 2024

Blizzard, Education and Hunger Strike – London hasn’t had a great deal of snow for some years, but when I got off the bus on Wednesday 28th February 2018 close to London University I found myself walking into a blizzard. There was a couple of inches of snow underfoot and the biting wind was driving dense snowflakes into my face making it both difficult to walk and hard to see where I was going.

Blizzard, Education and Hunger Strike

I slipped a few times and almost fell as I walked through Byng Place, only just managing to stop myself and my camera bag falling into the snow, and for the first 15 or 20 minutes after I reached the meeting point for the march it was difficult to take pictures, with snowflakes landing on the lens surface as soon as I took away the cloth I had stuffed against it inside the lens hood and raised the camera to my eye.

Blizzard, Education and Hunger Strike

Most of the pictures from the start of the protest were ruined by snow on the lens making some areas soft and diffuse. It might sometimes have been an arty effect but wasn’t what I wanted. Fortunately after a while the snow died down and I was able to work more normally, though the occasional flake kept coming and there were a few thick flurries later on the march.

Blizzard, Education and Hunger Strike

HE and FE march for pensions and jobs

Blizzard, Education and Hunger Strike

The UCU was on the fifth day of a strike to try and get the universities to talk with them about pay and pensions. On this march to a rally in Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, close to the Houses of Parliament, they were joined by staff from London FE colleges on the first day of a two-day strike over pay and conditions. And plenty of their students had come along to show their support.

Although students are now paying high fees for their university courses, the pay of university teachers has not benefited from this, and has not kept up with inflation. Much more teaching at universities is also being done by graduate students and others on part-time or often zero hours contracts.

What particularly inflamed the situation was the intention of the universities to end the long-established pension scheme, replacing it with one that would greatly reduce pensions, and their refusal to discuss this with their union, the UCU.

The 5 day strike was supported overwhelmingly by UCU members and had shut down 61 UK universities, despite draconian threats by the management at some of them such as Royal Holloway (RHUL). Pickets had stood in the freezing weather and few people had crossed the picket line.

The move away from the pension scheme was largely driven by a small number of universities, particularly the Oxbridge colleges. Many of these are extremely wealthy, some owning huge areas of land including large parts of London and having vast reserves, not least in their wine cellars. A number of college principals had given their support to the union.

The dispute between the employers and the UCU continued for five years and was only ended in October 2023 when the employer body UUK made an offer of full restoration. This came after 69 days of strikes by the UCU and was a historic victory for UCU members and reversed further cuts made in 2022.

University teachers continue to fight for better pay, more appropriate workloads and job security. FE teachers, marching because of the loss of 15,000 jobs in the sector particularly as adult education has been savaged by austerity, and whose wages had been cut by 21% since 2009, continue to be treated unfairly.

I went into the rally in Central Hall largely to try to get warm after the freezing march, and was fortunate to arrive early enough to get inside – many of the marchers were left outside the the cold where the speakers went outside to speak after making their contributions in the hall.

The event was running late because of the larger than expected number of people on the march, and by the time the main speakers, John McDonnell and Frances O’Grady had performed I’d missed the time for another event I’d planned to cover, the handing in of some NHS petitions at the Department of Health. I But I was pleased to be able to stay longer in the warm.

HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs
HE and FE march for pensions and jobs


Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers – Home Office

I left the Methodist Central Hall and walked down to the Home Office where an emergency protest was taking place to support the hunger strike and refusal to work by the 120 women and a few men in immigration detention at Yarl’s Wood.

They had begun their action a week earlier to demand the Home Office respect the European Convention of Human Rights and end the separation of families, end indefinite detention with a 28 day maximum detention period, end charter flights which deport people without notice, and end the re-detention of those released from detention.

Their statement also called for an amnesty for those who have been in the UK for more than ten years and for the Home Office to stop deporting people before cases and appeals have been completed, as well as making full disclosure of all evidence to immigration tribunals.

They called for those in detention centres to be treated with dignity and respect and be given proper health care and an end to the detention of highly vulnerable people. They also want an end to employment in detention centres at ‘prison wages’ of £1 an hour.

Among the groups supporting the protest were the Movement for Justice, All African Women’s Group, Queer Strike and No Borders. Some of those taking part in the protest had previously served time in detention centres and knew first hand about the shameful way the UK treats them and some spoke at the event and several of those taking part in the hunger strike were able to speak to the protest from inside Yarls Wood by mobile phone.

Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers


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Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood – 2015

Tuesday, November 7th, 2023

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood – On Saturday 7th November 2015 Movement for Justice organised a large protest with other groups to show solidarity with the women locked up inside Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre and to demand that all such detention prisons be shut down.


MFJ Meet To March to Yarl’s Wood – Twinwoods Business Park

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

Yarl’s Wood was built on a former wartime airfield in remote countryside five or six miles from the centre of Bedford, perhaps chosen in part for its remoteness, which makes it difficult for visitors or protesters to get there.

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

But Movement for Justice – MfJ – and others had organised coaches from around the country, including eight from London as well as one from Bedford Station to bring people with others arriving by car, taxi or bicycle. The road leading to the prison is private, but people were able to meet on a public road around a mile away outside the main entrance to the business park there.

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

While we were waiting for everyone to arrive there was lively rally with a great deal of dancing, singing and chanting, keeping everyone’s spirits high, and keeping us warm as a chilly wind with occasional spots of rain swept across the open site on top of a high plateau.

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

Among those at the protest were many immigrants who had themselves been detained at this or other detention centres around the country while waiting for a decision to be taken on their asylum claims. Sometimes this takes several years and those who are taken to prisons such as these are held indefinitely, never knowing if or when they will be released or taken under guard to be forcibly deported.

Movement For Justice at Yarls Wood

Many inside have fled their countries after violent attacks including sexual assault and rape and deserve humane treatment not imprisonment. Few if any pose any real threat and could be housed outside, often with friends or relatives in this country. If they were allowed to work many would make a positive contribution. They would also be much more able to contact their solicitors and collect information to support their asylum cases than from inside the detention centres where access is limited.

Instead the Home Office locks them away and sometimes seems to have forgotten them and lost the key. One woman was detained for a couple of days less than three years before being released – after which she returned with the MfJ and spoke at protests which give those still inside some hope and remind them that they have not entirely been forgotten.

More at MFJ Meet Outside Yarl’s Wood.


MfJ ‘Set Her Free’ protest at Yarl’s Wood

As well as MfJ, Sisters Uncut, Lesbians & Gays support the Migrants, All Africans Women’s Groups, Glasgow Unity and others had come to join in the protest. Eventually with around a thousand people gathered it was time to march, though a few coaches had not yet arrived.

We set off on the long walk to the detention centre, with banners and placards, a short distance along the road and then down the public footpath which runs through a couple of fields and across another track, and into a field on the north side of the prison, about a mile from where the campaigners had gathered.

Here there was a fairly steep rise a few feet up a hill from the 20 foot high fence around the detention centre and from the top of this we could see the upper floor windows, some of which had women at them, though only through the dense thick wire grid of the upper half of the fence.

The windows do not have bars, but only open a few inches, but this was enough for the women inside to put their hands through and hold towels and clothing to greet the protesters. Some managed to hold out messages: one read ‘We came to seek Refuge. Not to be locked up’ and another ‘We are from torture. We Need Freedom’.

The lower 10 feet of the fence is made of stout metal panels, and beating or kicking on these makes a very loud noise. Later some protesters brought up rope ladders so they could hold placards and banners on the more open top of the fence so they could be seen by the women inside.

The prisoners are allowed to have phones which they need to contact their solicitors and advisers over their cases and some were able to use these to communicate with the protesters and to have their voices relayed over the PA system the protesters had brought.

There was a heavy rain shower during the protest, and the ground which was already muddy and with large puddles became very treacherous and getting up from the concrete and narrow flat area at the bottom of the fence became difficult. But soon the sun was back out again.

Most of those who spoke at the event were former detainees, some of whom had friends who were still inside the immigration prison.

The protest was still continuing when I had to leave and the low winter sun was beginning to make photography more difficult. It seemed a long and rather lonely journed as I made my way back to the road, boots heavy with mud. But I was free to go, while women who had come to this country seeking asylum from danger and violence in their own countries were still locked up by a hostile and unfeeling government.

More at MfJ ‘Set Her Free’ protest at Yarl’s Wood.


Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 14

Friday, July 21st, 2023

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 14: This protest on Saturday 21st July 2018 was the 14th organised by Movement for Justice outside the immigration prison at Yarl’s Wood and I think their last there. I missed the first so this was my 13th visit to this remote location, cyling uphill the five or six miles north from Bedford station. I had previously photographed a number of protests organised by MfJ outside the two immigration prisons (officially called detention centres to make it sound nicer) on the north of Heathrow airport, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, a rather easier journey.

Unlike these two prisons which housed men, Yarl’s Wood was mainly used to hold women, though there were also a few families there. The protests there had attracted more campaigners because of this, with women being seen more widely as victims than male asylum seekers. And many of those who were locked up inside were women who had been raped as well as beaten and otherwise subjected to traumatic events before fleeing their countries.

Many of the women – as too the men elsewhere – were kept locked up for many months and some for years in indefinite detention while the Home Office refused to believe their stories or to properly investigate their cases, often demanding paperwork it would be impossible for them to provide. The remoteness of the centre and only limited access to internet and telephones makes it difficult for the women to progress their cases.

Many of these are people with desperate needs for counselling and help, but instead as various investigations, official as well as undercover journalism – had shown are held under appalling conditions in this and other centres run by private companies such as SERCO, with detainees refused their human and civil rights, assaulted, sexually harassed and assaulted, denied proper medical treatment, poorly fed and forced to work for £1 an hour on menial tasks.

The protests here are greeted by the women, giving them the assurance that they have not been forgotten and that there are those outside who support them. Those able to get to the windows facing the hill on which the protesters stood so they could be seen over the tall prison fence – the lower 10ft solid steel and above that another ten foot of dense metal mesh – shouted greetings, waved and held up messages.

A powerful public address system meant those inside could hear the speeches, some by former inmates of Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres, and some by those inside, relayed by mobile phone to the amplifier, as well as by some leading MfJ members.

Most of those inside will eventually be released, the majority getting leave to stay in this country. Some are taken to be deported with the MfJ and other organisations then working desperately and often successfully to stop their deportation flights back to terror and violence in their home countries.

This was by far the smallest of all the protests at Yarl’s Wood organised by the MfJ, following complaints made against the organisation by a former member who appears to have been treated badly by them. But however justified her personal complaint, her comments revealed little or nothing about the nature of the group which was not already on Wikipedia or otherwise common knowledge. But the dispute led to many other groups ending their support for protests organised by the MfJ, some organising their own protests but with very limited success.

Mabel had been held in Yarl’s Wood for a day or two less than 3 years

Other groups were and are working – as MfJ still is – to support detainees. The MfJ has played a major role in protests against our racist immigration detention system and in actions to prevent deportations. It still seems to be supported by many former detainees who have always played a leading role in the protests both at Yarl’s Wood and at Harmondsworth.

The Home Office finally decided it was too easy for protests to be organised outside Yarl’s Wood and moved the women – many of whom were released at the start of the Covid epidemic – up to an even more remote location in the north-east, with Yarl’s Wood being used to house those who had crossed the Channel in small boats.

The Illegal Immigration Act finally passed a few days ago intends to deport almost all migrants and asylum seekers (other than those coming under special schemes for Ukraine, Hong Kong etc) to Rwanda without any consideration of their asylum claims. Efforts to persuade the government to set up safe routes for those claiming asylum were rejected by the government in the latest ratcheting up of its racist policies, justified by them through the doublespeak of “compassion” while showing not the faintest scintilla of any real compassion.

More on My London Diary at Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 14.


Shut down Yarl’s Wood Immigration Prison – 2017

Saturday, May 13th, 2023

On Saturday 13th May 2017 I put my Brompton folding bike on the train and made my way to Bedford Station via St Pancras. I was on my way the the 11th protest outside the immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood in the campaign led by Movement for Justice to shut down this and other immigration prisons.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

This was the first time I’d taken a bike to get to Yarl’s Wood, although I’d been to most of the previous protests they had organised there. Before I’d ridden from the station on a coach organised by the event organisers which hadn’t always been ideal, meaning I sometimes arrived late – especially once when the driver got lost – and had to leave when the coach was leaving, sometimes before the end of the protest and sometimes when I would have liked to leave earlier. On the bike I was free to arrive when I wanted and leave when I liked.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

Yarl’s Wood is sited in an area remote for the southern parts of England, on the site of a former wartime airfield, probably chosen as somewhere people could be locked away out of sight and out of mind, on the hills around 5 miles north of Bedford. Motorists would take the A6 to Milton Ernest, the closest village, and then a mile or more uphill to the meeting point outside the Twinwoods Business Park. But I took a slightly more sensible cycle route, mainly along side roads or cycle paths, with just a short section beside the A6 into the village.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

Most of the route was uphill, climbing slowly towards the hills, then wasting the energy I’d expended in climbing with short downhill sections. But the final section from Milton Ernest was uphill all the way, long and steep, though I didn’t need to worry about traffic on it as the police had helpfully closed the road.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

My Brompton has a 3-speed hub gear and isn’t really good on hills, with the lowest of the three still being rather high when things get steep, but I managed to struggle up without having to get off and walk, though I was tired and seriously panting by the time I reached the top.

There I locked the bike to a fence and joined the thousand or so protesters who had travelled from around the country in a long line of coaches parked along the road. There were speeches and chanting for some time as we waited for others to arrive.

Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

The gates of the business centre were locked and protesters are prevented from taking the shortest route to the prison (there is also a more direct private road from the south closed to the public.) But a public footpath runs beside the 20ft fence around it. To reach it the campaigners first march a few hundred yards along the road, then turn down one footpath to reach a bridleway before going a few hundred yards along this to the path leading to the prison.

Its not a great distance, a little over three-quarters of a mile, but much of the way is on paths often muddy and full of puddles, and the Brompton is not happy off-road. I ended up pushing it much of the time, occasionally carrying it along with my camera bag, though some of the protesters did give me a hand so I could take some photographs.

Outside the prison the protesters marched into a field on the north side where a small hill rises to give a limited view over the solid lower half of the 20 foot metal prison fence. Their shouts and noise were greeted by those inside the centre who had managed to get to the windows on that side.

The prison windows have very limited opening, but enough for some of the women inside to get their arms through and wave, often holding items of clothing, or sheets of A4 paper with messages calling for freedom and for justice. Our view of them from the hill was only through the wire mesh of the upper 10 feet of the 20 foot fence which made taking pictures difficult.

From most places we could only see the two upper floors of the building, but at the very highest point the upper part of some ground floor windows was also visible. These rooms are used to house families being detained and although Yarl’s Wood was mainly used to detain women there were a few men here as well.

Most of the protesters stood up on the hill holding banners and placards but others were at the bottom, some banging or kicking the metal fence which resonates to make a terrific racket. Others wrote slogans on the fence, though these were only visible to us outside. People climbed up on ladders or other people’s shoulders or used long poles to hold banners, posters and placards in front of the upper mesh where the detainees could see them.

Movement for Justice had brought a public address system and there were speeches, mainly from former detainees, including several women who had been held at Yarl’s Wood. One who spoke was Mabel Gawanas who had been recently released a after a few days short of 3 years inside. A few detainees were also able to speak from inside over mobile phones, amplified by the PA system.

The protests at Yarl’s Wood have been important in gaining publicity for the terrible way in which the UK treats asylum seekers, particularly women who are locked up in this ‘racist, sexist hell-hole’ which has been exposed by various reports. They have an enormous morale-boosting affect on the prisoners who feel isolated and forgotten inside.

But the government’s response has been to re-purpose Yarl’s Wood as a short-term holding facility for men arriving in the UK by boat in December 2021 and to set up a new immigration detention centre for women in an even more remote location in County Durham, where it is much harder for the women to organise and argue their cases. Almost certainly a part of this decision was to try to avoid further protests such as this one.

More recently the Home Office has started indefinitely detaining women at Yarl’s Wood again, although the numbers are much smaller. No official announcement was made of this reversion.

Much more at Shut down Yarl’s Wood Prison on My London Diary.


April 28th 2015 IWMD

Friday, April 28th, 2023

April 28th 2015 IWMD; April 28th every year is International Workers Memorial Day, and last year here on >Re:PHOTO I wrote about this, beginning with a quote from the TUC web site:

Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don’t die of mystery ailments, or in tragic “accidents”. They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn’t that important a priority. International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) 28 April commemorates those workers.

TUC – International Workers’ Memorial Day

I wrote more about it and illustrated the post with pictures taken mainly at previous years on Tower Hill. You can still read it at International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD).

This year there are events planned in Stratford, Barking and Walthamstow marking the event, as well as others around the country, and many workplaces will be holding a minute’s silence at 12 noon.


On Tuesday 28th April 2015 two of the three events I covered were related to IWMD, but I also went to Holloway Prison with protesters demanding the release of an immigration detainee being held there.


Qatar Slave Labour deaths – World Cup 2022 – Qatari Embassy, Mayfair

April 28th 2015 IWMD

My working day began with trade unionists outside the Qatari embassy in Mayfair, where they attempted to deliver a letter on International Workers Memorial Day protesting the slaughter of migrant slave labour workers on World Cup building sites. At current death rates, over 4,000 migrant workers will die by 2022.

April 28th 2015 IWMD

According to a Guardian report, on average one Nepalase worker there dies very two days, and including the deaths of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers the death rate is most likely more than one every day. At least 964 workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh died working in Qatar in 2012 and 2013.

April 28th 2015 IWMD

Work had still to begin on eleven of the 12 stadiums needed for the 2022 World Cup and there are likely to be many more dying due to the appalling exploitation and abuse of these migrant workers.

April 28th 2015 IWMD

The International Labour Organization had urged Qatar to “ensure without delay, access to justice for migrant workers, so that they can effectively assert their rights […] strengthening the complaints system and the labour inspection system”.

According to Amnesty many of the migrant workers have there passports confiscated when they arrive for work in Qatar and are forced to work long hours for very low pay day after day with no rest and are often physically and sexually abused.

Police moved the protesters away from the embassy to the other side of the road but allowed a small deputation to approch the doorway with a letter. A police officer went inside the embassy to ask if someone would come to the door to accept this from Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union. After a lengthy wait, a man came to the door and refused, and the protesters then left it on the doorstep.

In 2021 The Guardian revealed that “More than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago“. A few days football came at a very bloody price.

Qatar Slave Labour deaths – World Cup 2022


Holloway protest for Yarl’s Wood protester Anna – Holloway Prison

From Mayfair I travelled to a very different area of London for a protest outside Holloway Prison, a Victorian prison in one of the poorer areas of North London which had housed only women prisoners since 1902 and was closed a year after this protest.

Anna, a detainee in Yarls Wood immigration detention prison, had been one of a group of women defending another detainee, a torture victim, who was about to be deported. Thirty guards rushed into the room and brutally assaulted them all, taking them to solitary confinement in the ‘Kingfisher’ isolation unit at Yarl’s Wood. Both Anna and another woman, Lillija, were threatened with prison, but only Anna was transferred to Holloway prison and was being held there although she was had not been charged with any offence.

Both women had been involved in a Channel 4 News exposure of the abuses of women by guards in Yarls Wood which had led to one guard being suspended.

Many of those at the emergency protest organised by Movement for Justice demanding Anna’s release had served time in Yarls Wood or other immigration prisons.

When a group of three prison employees came out to argue with the protesters that their protest simply upset women being held inside the jail they told them from their first hand experience how greatly they had welcomed knowing that there were people outside the prison who were aware of them and wanting to help.

Free Yarl’s Wood Anna from Holloway


Hotel Workers Rise Up on Workers Memorial Day

Finally I came back to central London and the Hilton London Metropole hotel on the Edgware Road in Bayswater and in another protest for International Workers’ Memorial Day against the exploitation of workers, mainly migrants organised by the Unite Hotel Workers branch. Workers at luxury hotels in portering and household services are employed by agencies on minimum wage, zero hours contracts and denied basic rights.

Several workers including former room attendant Barbara Pokryszka spoke at the protest, complaining of heavy workloads and abusive treatment by management, who fail to treat them as human beings, saying “We Are Not Machines”. As in other areas of work outsourcing to contractors who pay minimum wage and impose abysmal conditions is at the root of the abuse.

Luxury hotels have a world-wide reputation to maintain and this would be damaged if they were found to be treating staff on their payroll in such a disgusting way. A night’s stay for two in a room costs over £200 and housekeeping worker would usually have to clean between 12 and 20 rooms in an 8 hour shift. The worker’s pay for cleaning – before deductions would be around £85 while the hotel guests would be paying over £3000 for their stay. Hotels could surely pay more to their essential workers.

Hotel Workers – Workers Memorial Day


March 8th – Women Strike And Protest

Wednesday, March 8th, 2023

March 8th – Women Strike And Protest. Last year on International Women’s Day I published a long post, International Women’s Day Marches with images from my coverage of them from 2002 until 2020. This year I look back five years to Thursday 8th March 2018 when I covered a wide range of protests, most of which were linked to International Women’s Day


Shut Guantanamo at new US Embassy – US Embassy, Nine Elms

This was the first protest outside the new US Embassy where they intend to continue the regular monthly protests which they have had outside the old embassy in Grosvenor Square since 2007 until the illegal and immoral US prison camp is shut down and all the prisoners released.

Normally these protests take place on the first Thursday of every month, but in March 2018 the protest scheduled for March 1st was postponed for a week because of snow. Because of the change of date some regular protesters were unable to attend and the protest started a little later than usual as some had problems finding the new location. This was the only event not connected with International Women’s Day I covered on the day.

In March 2018, 41 prisoners remained held at Guantanamo. There was no evidence against most of those held and tortured there that would stand up in any court of law, often simply a matter of suspicion or hearsay or desperate statements made under extreme torture. Many were simply foreigners in the region seized to gain cash rewards from the US forces.

Shut Guantanamo at new US Embassy


Family Courts put on Trial – Old Palace Yard

March 8th - Women Strike And Protest

Global Women’s Strike had organised a mock trial of the UK Family Courts in an International Women’s Day protest in front of Parliament.

March 8th - Women Strike And Protest

Among those who spoke were mothers whose children had been unjustly taken away, and statements from others were also read out, along with some shocking comments made in court by judges.

The UK has the highest rate of adoptions in Europe, almost all without consent of their birth family. Families of colour, immigrants and disabled are all disproportionately affected and in some working class areas 50% of children are referred to social services.

Poverty, often the result of benefit cuts and sanctions and poor housing conditions especially in temporary accommodation is often mistaken for neglect and the help mandated under the 1989 Childrens Act is seldom available. Children are often simply taken into care and then put up for adoption even though they have mothers or grandmothers who are capable of good parenting and only need support.

The campaigners say that victims of domestic abuse are often accused of ‘failing to protect’ their children and vague charges such as putting children at risk of future emotional harm and neglect are used by the secret courts to remove children from mothers and grandmothers. They want hearings with proper public scrutiny and an end to the gagging of mothers and familys, a great use of kinship carers and the proper implementation of the 1989 Children Act, and the Care Act 2014 which entitles disabled mothers to extra help.

Parliamentary officer Black Rod sent police to try to shut down the protest, but the organisers showed them documents to say they had permission for the protest and to use a megaphone. They seemed puzzled but left.

Family Courts put on Trial


London Women’s Strike – Russell Square

This was the big event of the day and included speeches about a wide range of causes. As the organisers said the “Women’s Strike is a strike for solidarity between women – women of colour, indigenous, working class, disabled, migrant, Muslim, lesbian, queer and trans women” and “is about realising the power we already hold – activating and nourishing resistance.

Many of the women present went on to other protests elsewhere including several protests in support of cleaners at the TopShop and The Royal Opera in Covent Garden, and cinema workers at Picturehouse, calling for an end to immigration detention an in solidarity with the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers, for Unilever to withdraw its investment in Myanmar where its presence supports a government that has brutally raped, tortured and killed many Rohingya, and supporting sex workers by calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution and I also went to cover some of these

Much more about this event on My London Diary: London Women’s Strike.


Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers – Home Office

At the Home Office protesters showed solidarity with those held in Yarl’s Wood on International Women’s Day, in particular with those who had began a hunger strike 15 days ago against their imprisonment and the conditions and treatment by the detention centre staff and the Home Office.

Since then the strike has gathered momentum and escalated into an all-out strike: work strikes, occupations, and a general refusal to cooperate, and long lists of the detainees demands have been published by Detained Voices.

More at Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood.


Reinstate the Royal Opera House 6 – Royal Opera, Covent Garden

Six members of grassroots independent workers union CAIWU were fired by cleaning services company Kier for their jobs at the Royal Opera House, another disciplined and a sixth was on final written warning. They were clearly being victimised folloing successful trade union action which had forced Kier to pay its workers there the London Living Wage.

The large and loud action with union members augmented by women from the Women’s Strike blocked Drury Lane for some minutes. Police arrived, talked to the protesters and then went inside to talk to the managers inside before emerging, carefully removing poster and fliers the protesters had left on their car before driving off. The protesters later moved back into Covent Garden Market leaving the road free.

More at Reinstate the Royal Opera House 6.


& Myanmar’s Rohingya genocide – Unilever House

Women from the Women’s Strike called on Unilever to disinvest from Myanmar where they have a $667 million investment.

The military government there are committing systematic rape and other torture with total impunity as part of their genocide against the Rohingya people. Unilever claims, especially in its marketing for Dove products to respect the dignity and rights of women and girls and says it “aims to improve safety for women and girls in the communities where they operate.”

More at Unilever & Myanmar’s Rohingya genocide.


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