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Photography Ayesha Tan-Jones

Meet the fight club and activists attacking government immigration policy

They are bringing direct action to the streets of London to raise awareness about the ongoing hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood

Women in the immigration detention centre Yarl's Wood have now been on a hunger and labour strike for 25 days. This Monday, two organisations are coming together to raise further awareness about their plight: Shadow Sistxrs Fight Club, a radical self-defence collective for women and non-binary people, and Yellow Projects, a not-for-profit which supports refugees and unites artists and activists worldwide. They will be taking to the streets of London and using direct action in their support of the women who have been literally starving themselves in an attempt to make the world care.

The issue of immigration detention spoke to the organisers at Yellow Projects because, at their core, they are trying to empower the world to stand up for what is right. “We want to spread the message,” says organiser Nina Alonso. “We were born with Yellow Days festival, a cultural festival in the Greek island of Leros at a refugee camp. The aim of the festival is to unite locals and refugees and empower them. To create an example worldwide of how different communities can exist together regardless of language, religion or sex.”

“The people in Yarl's Wood are not protected by the state and are detained in centres where they're made to be unseen” – Ayesha Tan-Jones

For Shadow Sistxrs, who run weekly donation-based self-defence classes combining Brazillian ju-jitsu with herbal medicines in accessible venues, the motivation came from a realisation that their aim to protect their community through self-defence is inaccessible for those who are locked up indefinitely in places like Yarl's Wood. “(The people in Yarl's Wood) are not protected by the state and are detained in centres where they're made to be unseen. It's breaking down that wall and showing solidarity,” says Ayesha Tan-Jones, who co-founded Sistxrs alongside their best friend Monique Etienne.

The collectives have created a 100m washing line constructed of 120 items of clothing, which reflects the number of women who were originally on hunger strike at Yarl's Wood, with the aim of hanging it in London today (19 March). They will have a large banner with the slogan ‘To Detain is Inhumane’, and people giving out information about detention centres in the UK. The demonstrators will also be inviting people to sign their petition, calling for the demands of the hunger strikers to be granted and plugging the upcoming Surround Yarl’s Wood demonstration which is taking place on March 24.

“We wanted to go to a public place and get outside of our echo chamber bubble, and make sure that the conversations that we're having with all the passionate people that we know are actually going beyond that and into the street... That is really how things change,” says Isla Greenwood from Yellow Projects. She's hoping people will imagine the stories behind the clothes on the washing line and question their existence. “These items represent women who have had certain liberties and rights taken away from them. We thought that as a symbol would open up a conversation.”

Tan-Jones explains further: “We don't plan to shut down the area where the action is taking place. We don't want to create a mess, we want to create a message.”

This type of awareness-raising is crucial: the Home Office has so far refused to meet the 15 key demands of the strikers, which include ending indefinite detention and “adequate health care”. The healthcare at Yarl's Wood is notoriously poor, with the British Medical Association calling for immigration removal centres like Yarl's Wood to be phased out in December. On Friday, the Home Office, who has warned the strikers that their actions could lead to their cases being accelerated, attempted to deport another one of the strikers. Thanks to action from SOAS Detainee Support and pressure from the public, the deportation was halted at the last minute.

“I think the hunger strike has been really powerful and what inspired us to get on board with this was seeing how many individuals and groups were getting involved,” says Greenwood. “We wanted to stand alongside them and make sure this was an issue that was not forgotten, that this wasn't an issue that falls out of the media unresolved.”

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