As part of a nationwide campaign of action organised by a coalition of campaigning groups under the umbrella body the Action Against Detention and Deportation (AADD), protestors gathered outside Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in Bedfordshire on Saturday 10th September 2022. Mainly bused in by coach from London, they were there to show solidarity with those incarcerated and to show them that there are people, who care to fight their corner.
This protest, within the overall Campaign’s aims, demanded an end to the Government’s plans to send detained refugees to Rwanda and to raise awareness of proposed plans to house women at the facility again
It was saddening to see those people, that could see the support, waving back through small windows at those on the other side of the high perimeter wall and fence, topped with razor wire. Through one narrowly open window came cries of “Help” and “We are not criminals”.
Through a portable PA system, to reach those inside the facility, several speakers gave impassioned speeches of encouragement, interspersed by chants from the assembled group.
Banners, which would be visible to some of the detainees, proclaimed various organisations represented. Some speakers gave personal experiences whilst others focused on demanding an end to the government’s plans regarding refugees’ deportations or raised awareness of proposed Government plans..
Yarl’s Wood was stopped from detaining women in 2020 after protests exposed a sexually predatory regime and rape by guards in addition to poor conditions.
A previous detainee, Manono, now representing Solidarity Knows No Borders, described how she, having been incarcerated for no crime, was subjected to attempted coercion – “If you sleep with me and get pregnant, they won’t deport you”. She added how she and others had heard women getting raped and shouting for help. It is a shuddering thought to imagine how this would affect their mental health, whilst sickening to think of the victims. It filled me with rage.
A woman from the All-African Women’s Group described how she knew of a woman who was made pregnant whilst in detention. The perpetrator, a Guard, was dismissed, but she was deported without any compensation or consideration of the violation against her.
Such injustice is unacceptable and shameful.
Rwanda isn’t safe. Media reports show refugees barely surviving with scarce food, housing and medical services and living in fear of the country’s brutal security forces. It is understood that some refugees have paid traffickers to help them escape.
Israel was forced to drop a similar scheme to pay Rwanda to take deported asylum seekers after people held mock slave auctions in protest saying, “we are not slaves to be traded among nations.”
Rita, a Rwandan national within the protestors, declared loudly that Rwanda “is not a good place. It is a dangerous country, where the police and Government are corrupt and don’t protect their own people”. She and her husband came to Britain as refugees. He was deported 20 years ago, and no one has heard from him since. She fears he has been killed or ‘disappeared’.
Margaret, a young British doctor, speaking publicly for the first time, gave a heartfelt and impassioned message to the detainees of why she was there.
A representative from the TSSA union expressed that he and his union stood with the refugees and asylum seekers. He was determined that the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers will end.
Perhaps one of the most moving interludes in the protest, which gave a glimmer of hope, was when one enterprising campaigner, with a marker pen, wrote a mobile number on the back of a hand-made banner. She held it high and another, through a loud hailer, asked for any detainee, who had a mobile phone, to call it. The assembled group was hushed. It seemed like an age. Then a huge swell of emotion greeted the ringing tone. Real time contact was made and there were exchanges of greetings and many questions like “do you have a lawyer?” were asked. Instructions were given to pass on the number to others. A couple more calls came through before the end and no doubt more would follow.
Hopefully, an encouraging message would be spread amongst those locked away and spirits lifted.
There are grave injustices being meted out and we all need to do more to support the efforts of these campaigners
Readers can find further information on the website of Action Against Detention and Deportation or Global Women Against Deportations
These actions are organised by a wide network of organisations working for the rights of migrants and refugees and against deportations and immigration detention.
SOAS Detainee Support (Twitter: @sdetsup)
Global Women Against Deportations (Email: email@example.com)
Solidarity Knows No Borders (Twitter: @FIRMCharter)
Global Justice Now: (Twitter: @GlobalJusticeUK)
No Borders Manchester (Twitter: @NoBordersMCR)
Merseyside Knows No Borders (Facebook: Solidarity Knows No Borders Merseyside)
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (Twitter: @LGSMigrants)
All African Women’s Group (Twitter: @AfricanGr)
Women Against Rape (Twitter: @AgainstRape)
Women of Colour/Global Women’s Strike (Twitter: @woc_gws)
JCWI: Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (Twitter: @JCWI_UK)
Scotland Must Act (Twitter: @ScotlandMustAct)
BARAC: Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (Twitter: @BARACUK)
Also keep an eye out for progress with the legal action at the European Court of Human Rights which has been launched by the PCS union and other groups.
12th September 2022