On 6 June 2015 a mass demonstration was held outside one of the most important immigration detention centres in the UK, Yarl’s Wood. A thousand of protesters gathered together and marched to the back of the centre to “meet” visibly with women inside ready to join the protest from rooms overlooking the field which was animated by solidarity action.
As the field got filled up with banners, placards and rainbow flags on the other side from the narrow openings of the windows the detainees stretched their arms waving colourful clothes and, as the protest went on, messages of freedom were put up for everyone there to see.
Women inside showed strength and real power as they had to boldly confront harassment from the Serco guards and attempts by the managers of the centre to divide the women by setting up a bingo game with prizes. Serco did not win, the women won. Ex detainees like Bruk had been in contact with the women inside who they personally knew and encouraged the organising inside. Even newcomers in the centre had joined in to act in defiance of a system of abuse that has the only purpose of crushing hopes of people who have already fought for freedom and for a better life when they have left their countries of origin.
Yarl’s Wood has seen many struggles over the years and women have being speaking out against the degrading racial and sexual abuse that is systemic in detention centres, there is no reform to be done, those horrible and traumatising places have to be shut down. This is what at the demonstration protesters outside and inside have been shouting: ”Detention Centres, Shut them Down!” and ”Freedom Now”.
After the protest on 6 June text messages were sent out by some detainees who wanted to thank everyone for the powerful and beautiful protest. Marina texted “The protesting was amazing. I enjoyed every single moment. That was the time to let that anger out and put forward the craving for freedom. Yarls Wood is such a confinement and a depressing place that detainees were hoping that protesters would break the gate so we could escape. Some had their bags ready just in case. I am sure what we did will not be a waste. Thanks to everyone for such a great day”.
We all left with a sense of our own power, citizens and non- citizens, together fighting the racist anti-immigrant attacks at the heart of the destructive austerity drive. Over the last month detainees inside have creatively asserted their voices more, writing messages like “FREEDOM, FREEDOM” on their t-shirts in a bold act of defiance and challenge to the true repressive nature of detention. Guards have responded with harassment and stalking, making threats:’ you won’t get any food’, ’you’ll be sent to prison’ or be put in ‘isolation’, for not handing over their customized t-shirts. Guards tried to spread fear through their abusive threats but they did not win. The women who asserted their dignity and power holding their ground refusing to give up their t-shirts have been winning.
We can win more and winning victories against the cynical divide -and- rule policy of scapegoating immigrants has to inspire our actions as we build and organise a movement that unites citizens and non-citizens, inside and outside detention centres, fighting for a better society where freedom and equality are for real.
That is why is important to come out from all our communities on the 8 August to Surround Yarl’s Wood and make another day where the collective power of the oppressed will resonate inside and outside detention centres.
For more information about the protest on 8 August click here.