Report: Demonstration at Yarl's Wood Detention Centre

(report: one of noborders) Nearly 200 people gathered Saturday 21st March in Bedford town centre, than heading to Yarl's Wood immigration prison, demanding its closure. Yarl's Wood has 405 capacity and holds single women and families with children. The building of a new immigration prison, next to Yarl's Wood, has just been approved, to hold 500 single men.

There were many asylum seekers and ex-detainees in the protest, alongside anti-racist groups, students and campaigners. Most people came from London, but there were Bedford based campaigners and people from Birmingham, South Wales, Leicester, Oxford, Brighton...
There were also lots of police to cordon the protest.

Yarl's Wood is about 5 miles from Bedford, which we walked all the way through the fields and through the smaller town of Clapham, situated a mile from the immigration prison. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day!
The locals' reactions were mixed: some were quite sympathetic but others were very hostile, it appears that lots of racists live in that area. We had a small but very keen samba band, and a little sound system operated by the women from the All African Women Group, who chanted and spoke with great energy all the way. Slogans included: Close Yarl's Wood now! Rape survivors need protection, not detention! One world, no borders! The world belongs to all of us, we have the right to stay! Stop detention, stop deportations!
We also had a phone line with the related protests in Manchester and Edinburgh.

We stopped at the prison's gate, were heavy police lines were waiting for us to arrive, they even had an helicopter circling in the air! (just in case we decided to run through the fields...)
We sat in the grass and began a rally. A woman ex- detainee in Yarl's Wood spoke first, clearly and couragiously, of her experience of being raped and tortured in her home country and how detention exacerbated her trauma, how rape survivors are guarded by male gards who can enter their rooms every moment. Than another woman ex-detainee spoke.

Than we had a direct line with the women detained inside, via mobile and sound systhem, everybody describing how hard it is, how the cannot bear being in deteniton, mothers with children who are getting sick and are not eating, women who have been detained for a very long time... but is really difficult to write about, hope somebody recorded their voices, it makes my hair stand up only to think about what I heard.

Than a man spoke, who has been detained in Yarl's Wood for two months and a half with his wife and two small children, aged one and four. He spoke of how bad it was for the children, how they tried to separate him from his family. He was a politician in his home country and he said 'most of us had a much better life in our countries than here', only he had to run because his life was in danger! Instead of protection he found himself detained with his family, with a flight booked to his country; he said: 'why do they want to send me to the one country in the world where I am in danger?' This family were only saved from deportation, and later released, thanks to the SOAS Detainee Support Group, a student group who regularily visit women and families detained in Yarl's Wood, help them to find decent legal repersentation and campign on their behalf.

Than a woman doctor who is a volunteer with Medical Justice spoke about the trauma and suffering of the children detained in Yarl's Wood.
Than other activists spoke, inviting people to continue the struggle against detention and deportations, and join the groups who phone and support the people in detention such the Crossroads Women Centre and SOAS Detainee Support Group.

The protest ended as peacefully as it had started, and people headed back to the coaches or went to Bedford for a late lunch and informal gathering.

The UK government are planning to increase the use of detention by 60 %, speed up the rate of deportations, increase the use of the detained 'fast track', by which people escaping persecution, war and torture are detained on arrival and given 5 days to prepare their cases and two days to appeal...leading to a refusal rate up to 99%. (the fast track was originally introduced to deal with claims that are 'clearly unfunded': in fact a staggering number of torture and rape survivors end up on the fast track!)

Is up to us to oppose this barbaric and inhumane system of immigration controls, by any means necessary...and do our best!