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UK: Hundreds protest to demand closure of Yarl’s Wood immigration centre

Monday, 08 June 2015

The largest protest staged against Britain’s most notorious immigration removal centre took place on Saturday, as campaigners denounced Yarl’s Wood as an “abomination” that should be closed immediately.

More than 400 protesters gathered outside the centre in Bedfordshire, where a similar number of women are incarcerated. The vast majority of inmates are failed asylum seekers who have committed no crime.

Backed by the all-woman Lips choir, organisers said the demonstration had a carnival feel, with the crowd singing loudly enough to ensure that the detainees could hear them from inside the centre.

Among the celebrities and political figures to lend their support were actresses Juliet Stevenson and Romola Garai, alongside Labour peer Baroness Kennedy QC and Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty.

Garai said: “If any woman I know had seen what I saw when I went to visit Yarl’s Wood detention centre I believe they wouldn’t be able to walk away feeling neutral about it. It’s so obviously wrong, the women detained are in such distress and very afraid.”

Organisers said the protest’s high turnout reflected the exasperation felt among many people after the general election result – Labour had promised to ban indefinite detention – but also follows a particularly tumultuous month for a facility plagued by damaging allegations since it opened in 2001.

Sophie Radice, a spokeswoman for the charity,Women for Refugee Women, which organised the protest, said: “The atmosphere is defiant and it’s been a real show of force. We’ll carry on until the abomination that is Yarl’s Wood is shut down.”

Protesters from as far away as Cornwall and Manchester travelled to Yarl’s Wood, with activist groups throughout the country fundraising for weeks beforehand to hire transport to get protesters to the event.

Richard Fuller, the Tory MP for Bedford, told protesters that “no purpose is served by locking up vulnerable women indefinitely in Yarl’s Wood”.

He denounced the government’s current approach to detaining failed asylum seekers as “inefficient, unjust and expensive” and said reform was urgently needed.

A recent parliamentary report said that Home Office officials were failing to follow guidance that immigration detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest period possible.

The UK is the only country in the European Union not to have a time limit on detention, according to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees.

Organisers also said that a Channel 4 broadcast of undercover footage revealing the allegedly racist and aggressive attitudes of some Yarl’s Wood staff had galvanised support for the protest. Staff were filmed referring to detainees as “animals” and “beasties”, with one guard saying of an inmate: “I’d beat her up.”

Kate Lampard, a former barrister, is carrying out an independent investigation into Yarl’s Wood.

Source: The Guardian

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