On December 1st the Women of Keele Educate group (supported by the KPA and SU) took a minibus full of people to Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, this involved a two-hour drive each way and a lot of singing.
We joined the 15th ‘Surround Yarl’s Wood’ protest organised in order to demonstrate against the indefinite detainment of people held in detention centres across the UK.
With a few placards, whistles and a megaphone we joined around 300 other protesters, trudging through several muddy fields to get to the detention centre, all the while accompanied by the Police.
It must be said that (as usual) despite several roadblocks and the request for information concerning the numbers in our party, the police were very hands-off on the day.
The UK is the only country which does not limit the amount of time a person can remain in a detention centre before being released or deported.
Amongst those held at Yarl’s Wood (and other IRCs) are refugees, asylum seekers, LGBT+ identifying individuals and those who were brought to the UK as children.
People who have fled war, genocide, trafficking, rape, abuse and discrimination came to the UK for safety and have instead been treated as criminals.
People (mainly women) in Yarl’s Wood have no idea whether they are going to be held for 6 weeks or 3 years and are subject to dehumanising treatment from Serco (private security company who took over management of the centre in 2007) and the Home Office.
The detainees are often left without proper medical care, heating or privacy and a surprise report from Ofsted in June 2017 found, “During the course of the inspection it was discovered that a doctor who had been employed at the centre since November 2016 was not in possession of the required registration” (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2017, p5).
Although pregnant women are only supposed to be detained in a centre for a maximum of 3 days, one woman has been there for over 6 weeks, according to a sign displayed in one of the windows during the protest.*
In 2017 Women for Refugee Women found that 85% of detained women were survivors of rape and other gender-based violence (pg. 5).
The following, are only a few of the findings from research conducted about detainees in Yarl’s Wood:
- 62% said they were survivors of rape or other sexual violence
- 42% said they were survivors of forced prostitution/internal trafficking in their countries of origin, or that they had been trafficked to the UK for forced prostitution or domestic servitude
- 38% said they were survivors of domestic violence
- 35% said they were survivors of forced marriage
- 15% said they were survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM)
During the demonstration, both detainees and protesters heard from several ex-detainees, one of which was Mabel Gawanas who had previously been held at Yarl’s Wood for 3 years.
She spoke about the need for solidarity within the community of women in the detention centre, and the necessity of support from the wider society in rejecting the fundamentally racist, anti-immigration policies condoned by the UK Government.
Women inside Yarl’s Wood were able to communicate with protester’s through windows opening only a couple of inches.
Some waved, some held up messages on A4 paper (‘Help us’, ‘I’m pregnant’, ‘Amnesty’, ‘Freedom’) and some shouted through the gap to tell us about their experiences.
As an ex-detainee stated “If it was safe for us to stay in our country, we wouldn’t be here today, we would be back there.”
Standing up against the inhumane treatment of those who seek safety and refuge within our borders, does not necessarily mean that one has to advocate an open-border type strategy – we can still have a stable and pragmatic immigration policy without subjecting those in need of sanctuary to the dehumanising treatment which currently exists.
Research both in the UK and elsewhere shows that there are much more effective alternatives to detention, ones which are more humane and less costly (see the International Detention Coalition, 2015).
In the wake of Brexit, Donald Trump, the Windrush Scandal and the election of Jair Bolsonaro, it has never been more important to take a stand against the xenophobia and bigotry which is perpetuated in our name.
Women of Keele Educate stand in solidarity with the women detained in Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres in the UK (and around the world) and want to continue increasing awareness surrounding this issue.
So then, we welcome you to join our newly formed organisation at Keele University, which champions intersectional feminism and to add your voice to the increasing number fighting for the human rights of women everywhere.
For more information concerning the demonstration, please follow the links below:
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/protesters-rally-detention-centre-women-immigrants-181201212935358.html (Spot the quote from our very own Sophia Taha).
*According to Movement for Justice, this woman was released on the evening of the demonstration due to increased public scrutiny and pressure placed on staff by her fellow detainees, whom until yesterday hadn’t been aware of her condition (although it was known to Serco and the Home Office).
See below for more photos from the day.