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Immigration detention: resistance and rebellion

With protests and hunger strikes now taking place inside eight of the UK's detention centres, is this the beginning of the end for detention? asks Karen Doyle

March 18, 2015
4 min read


The racism and sexism at the heart of the UK’s secret network of immigration detention centres was thoroughly exposed by Channel 4 News on the 2nd March 2015. That same week the system was further undermined by the report of the parliamentary detention inquiry that recommended radical changes to who is detained and for how long.

Strengthened by the public recognition of what detainees and ex-detainees have been speaking out about for so long, detainees responded by launching an on-going campaign of resistance and rebellion, determined to see an end to the hated system of Fast Track, the release of all vulnerable detainees and a 28 day time limit as proposed by the detention inquiry. This is just a small snapshot of what has been happening in the detention centres:

Yarl’s Wood: Mass demonstrations continued for two days after the Channel 4 News exposure, the women gathered in the gardens refusing to return to their room, chants of “We are not Animals” rang through the corridors. Women continue to write that statement on their T-Shirts and collective organising to get help to sick women and resist flights continues.

Harmondsworth: There have been mass demonstrations with the men demonstrating in the courtyards, refusing to be locked up – these are taking place regularly. Every day there is resistance through refusing to follow rules and resisting flights. In response to the recent Afghan charter flight, the Afghani detainees gathered together in the courtyard with other detainees, refusing to be separated and refusing to be moved so that they could not be taken on to the flight. Many detainees have started a hunger strike, saying they will continue until Fast Track is ended.

Colnbrook: Demonstrations have taken place demanding that the chair of the detention inquiry is invited into Colnbrook to meet with detainees. Some detainees have staged protests refusing to go into their rooms and spreading disinfectant through the corridors. Many are on hunger strike.

The Verne: In a desperate act of anger and despair a detainee climbed onto the roof shouting ‘we need our freedom, we need our families, this is not right, we are not animals’ he gathered over 150 men around him before he put a makeshift noose around his neck and threw himself off the roof. 10 guards jumped on him; detainees say they saw the guards pressing down on the man’s injured legs. The detainees responded in fury, trying to take back the man from the clutches of the guards. The guards had to retreat to a locked room as the detainees shouted for freedom, smashed windows and expressed their fury. The detainee who had tried to kill himself was not given any medical treatment, he was locked up in two different police stations, threatened with being charged and moved to Colnbrook where he has joined the on-going protests there.

These are just a few examples of the kind of resistance and rebellion that is rocking the detention system. There have been reports of demonstrations and hunger strikes in Morton Hall, Dungavel, Tinsley House and Brook House. Supporters outside have held noise demonstrations outside and blocked charter flight buses by super gluing their hands to the windows, Everyday detainees have been speaking out through the Detained Voices website. On the 11th April there will be a mass, national solidarity demonstration at Harmondsworth organised by the campaign group Movement for Justice.

Resistance is growing, the detention estate is proving unstable and explosive, and already a significant victory has been won with the Home Office withdrawing their plans to double the size of Campsfield. Detainees, Ex-Detainees and other campaigners sense a change in the air and are determined not to waste this opportunity to end immigration detention once and for all.

Karen Doyle is an activist with Movement for Justice by Any Means Possible

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