Pin It

The people fighting for freedom at Yarl’s Wood

We headed to a protest outside the controversial detention centre to meet the people battling to get the women held there out

“Since yesterday, the guards have been showing so much hatred towards us for supporting the protest. They are targeting the ones who got involved.” These are the words of Deborah, a 20-year old woman being held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

“The manager was standing outside my room throughout the protest,” says Aisha, another woman being held. “My name has been given to immigration for being a troublemaker and getting involved in the protest, they are trying to intimidate and scare us into silence. Nobody has cared about me before, it was amazing to hear that there were so many people out there showing that they support us. It gives us strength to keep on going.”

Birds are often associated with freedom, but for the women in Yarl’s Wood they mean something different. With cruel irony, the solitary confinement cell that holds women prior to their deportation or if they misbehave is named after the Kingfisher.

Bitter contradictions haunt the place. Hidden between the grassy banks of Bedfordshire, Yarl's Wood (which is owned by British outsourcing company Serco) stands in the middle of a business park in close proximity to a gym and a Red Bull warehouse. While it may be business as usual for these companies, time stands still for the women inside. But, on Saturday March 12, the typically silent area surrounding the detention centre was filled with noise. Movement For Justice by Any Means Necessary (MFJ), an anti-racism activist group, organised a protest of 2000+ outside Yarl's Wood’s walls in solidarity with the refugee women and asylum seekers held indefinitely there. 

Protesters screamed, stamped, threw smoke bombs and hit the cold green metal wall separating them from them and the detainees. From the windows, the women were visibly resisting. In defiance of the guards, they held signs and threw toilet roll, making their presence felt. One sign read “Yarl’s wood officers in relationships with vulnerable women” while another stated how pregnant women are imprisoned there.

At points, the crowd stood silently straining together to hear the words of the women inside. Calls of “we love you” came from the blocked up windows as the women appreciated the efforts of the protestors. But, the real resistance still came from the women held within. 

Many of them are refugees who have already survived abuse, torture and neglect and are still being forced to live without the respect they deserve. This sentiment was mirrored by Antonia Bright, a core member of MFJ, who said "I am proud and honoured to be part of organising these mass protests at Yarl's Wood IRC, and we are not finished. Detention is being exposed as the cruel system it is, designed because the politicians would rather divert blame onto immigration than find solutions to what is driving so many people across the world.”

Another protester told us, “People profiting off detention and borders is unacceptable. Plus, the use of indefinite detention, which is only allowed in this country, is a form of mental torture. With people power, hopefully we can change this.”

Below are the protesters that we met outside Yarl’ss Wood