Saturday 12th March saw a number of Warwick students join the ‘Movement for Justice’ campaign in their protests around Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. Members of WFFE joined the ranks of close to 2000 protesters to voice their opposition to the arbitrary detention of hundreds of asylum seekers in what was the largest protest of the campaign to date.
Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is nothing short of a modern-day internment camp. Opened in 2001, the detention centre is built to detain 400 women during their asylum applications. One of the 11 existing detention centres across the country, Yarl’s Wood has become infamous for its concerning suicide rates, hunger strikes and sexual abuse scandals that have quite recently been the subject of a harrowing Channel 4 investigative report.
The campaign for ‘Movement for Justice by any means necessary’ fights with asylum seekers who are facing the institutionalized racism that is the British Asylum System and the UK Border Force. Born out of the more ugly elements of our nationalism, these detention centres represent some of the worst examples of the British state’s human rights abuses.
Meeting on a coach in Coventry with a number of asylum seekers from the local area, we headed for a business park in a secluded area of Bedfordshire where Serco (the private company that runs Yarl’s Wood) leases out the property. Storming through the fields, we found our way to the outer walls of the detention centre. The communication with those inside was restricted but every attempt we made was responded in kind.
When we chanted, they replied. When we waved our banners, they waved messages scrawled on pillowcases and bed sheets. Those inside are suffering with the turmoil of indefinite detention. Described by former detainees as possibly worse than prison, you are detained without logical reason, without due course, without a set release date. The trauma can be depression inducing and our presence means the world to those inside. In a narrative that views these people as unworthy of the livelihoods they seek, we represent their total and undeniable acceptance as human beings whose rights are self-evident.
The criticism that Yarl’s Wood has so deservingly received has much to owe to the Movement for Justice campaign. The campaign’s work has made progress that can be inspiring to us all. One former-detainee turned activist speaks on how the sea of faces he saw before him would not have been thought possible a few years ago. From 10 organizers, the movement has amassed thousands of supporters, and it is only growing.
2016 is poised to be the year that Yarl’s Wood detention centre closed down.
There will be those that look upon our efforts as fruitless, and our demands too ambitious. The prominent abolitionist and suffragist Lloyd Garrison spoke of the approach of moderates in always trying to “temper zeal, weaken testimony, decry strong language, and apologize for the wrong-doer”. Make no misconceptions about this, before this campaign Yarl’s Wood Centre would detain children. Before this campaign the British Asylum System would have the power to fast-track applicants so that they wouldn’t have the time to collect the documents necessary to argue their case. Before this movement it was argued that it would take a lifetime to close down these centres, but we have seen 2 detention centres closed down in the last year alone and Yarl’s Wood is sure to follow suit.
Surrounded by liberation movements, our groups coloured the landscapes in the shades of gender, in the shades of ability and sexuality, in the shades of internationalism and solidarity. The day was a resounding success and it is imperative that we rally behind this campaign; their injustice is our concern and our support is invaluable. One organizer addressed the crowd as the rally started and declared us ‘the movement’s backbone’. We owe our support to the detained, to the campaign and to ourselves as change-agents in a world where refuge is pressingly sought and readily denied.
Refugees are welcome here. Migrants are welcome here. No one is illegal.