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Protests in solidarity with Yarl's Wood hunger strikers

imc-uk-features | 20.02.2010 23:25 | Migration

A mass hunger strike by migrant women detained at Yarl's Wood immigration prison in Bedfordshire has been ongoing since 5th February, 2010. The hunger strike, which involved some 84 women at the start, was sparked by detainees demanding that "the frustration and humiliation of all foreign nationals [in detention] ends now" (see demands below).

On 8th February, a violent attempt by Serco security guards to break up the protest saw 70 women being locked in a corridor for up to 8 hours without access to food, water, toilet or medical care. Many collapsed and about 20, who climbed out of a window, were beaten up and taken into isolation cells [detainee's account]. Four of the women, singled out as 'ringleaders', were taken to Bedford police station and subsequently transferred to HMP Holloway prison in London, without being charged with any offence or brought before a judge.

A number of protests in solidarity with the hunger strikers have taken place. On 10th February, students and campaigners held a two-day solidarity hunger strike at the London offices of Serco, the private security company that runs Yarl's Wood. Two days later, on 12th February, a noisy demo was held outside Serco's offices, with around 50 people present. 84 Northwest No Borders activists also took part in a 24-hour fast in solidarity with the 84 detainees on hunger strike. 66 people in Bradford also took part in a one-day solidarity hunger strike. On 17th February, a protest was held outside HMP Holloway in solidarity with the 'Yarl's Wood four'. On 21st February, a protester was held inside the perimeters of Yarl's Wood [press release | pics]. Another protest at the Serco offices in London has been called for Friday, 26th February.

A similar mass hunger strike in Yarl's Wood in June last year was met with violent assaults on detainees by Serco security guards. Again, a solidarity protest was held at the company's offices in London, where protesters sneaked a look at its 'protest response plan'.

Links: No Borders London | National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC)

The Yarl's Wood hunger strikers' demands:

- End the frustrations, physical and mental torture at the centre.

- Allow enough time and make resources available to residents who need to fully present their cases.

- To end all false allegations and misrepresentations by the UKBA regarding detainees in order to refuse bail or temporary admissions.

- Access to appropriate medical treatment and care as in the community, access to edible and well cooked food, phones with good mobile connections, with camera and recording facilities to back up cases.

- To stop the forceful removal and degrading system of deportation of detainees.

- To put law into practise, European rules governing standard of conditions of detention for migrants and asylum seekers and the length of time in detention.

- The abolition of detention for asylum seeker and torture victims.

- Detention should be by a standard procedure prescribed by law, authorised by judicial authority and be subjected to periodic judicial reviews.

- To end the detention of children and their mothers, rape survivors and other torture victims, to end the detention of physically, mentally sick people and pregnant women for long period of time.

- To end the separation of children from their mothers being detained whether in detention or destitution.

- To end the detention of women detention after serving time in prison.

- To abolish the fast track system, in order to give asylum seekers a fair chance with their application, while understanding the particular needs of victims of torture, and access to reliable legal representation which the fast track system denies.

- To end the repeat detention of women granted temporary admission while reporting or signing after a short period out of detention.

- To a set period of time allowed to detain women, which should be no longer than 1 month, while waiting decision either from UKBA or court proceedings.

- Finally, instead of detention of foreign nationals, there are alternatives to detention stated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), The detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe, adopted on 28th January, 2010, extracts below.

9.1.1. detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants shall be exceptional and only used after first reviewing all other alternatives and finding that there is no effective alternative; placement in special establishments (open or semi-open); registration and reporting; release on bail/surety; controlled release to individuals, family members, NGOs, religious organisations, or others; handover of travel and other documents, release combined with appointment of a special worker.



Hide the following 4 comments

Proof Read

21.02.2010 02:19

The demands, while admirable, would carry a lot more credibility if somebody had proof read them before they were published. Plese don't shoot yourselves in the foot by being sloppy: there's too much at stake here.

Dave P
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Solidarity hungerstrikes = pathetic useless activity

21.02.2010 11:39

In the face of what is occuring I don't think that carrying out 'solidarity' hungerstrikes is at all useful.

What is the point of making yourself more weak - for the media? for the cameras? for the game of the activist? to make yourself feel better for your guiltiness at not having the means to change the situation of these women? pathetic - a ridiculous charade.

The UK Border Agency and Serco should be blockaded and attacked, and this is just to start.

84 people from the NorthWest No Borders went on hungerstrike? Think what these people could have done if they were actually radicals - Destroy a Serco office.

not an activist martyr

@ not an activist martyr

21.02.2010 12:32

Oh hey there thanks for that useful comment! I look forward to seeing you on the front pages tomorrow having burnt down those offices then, cool? Why disrespect on people doing something so admirable. Constructive criticism can be useful and has a place (not necessarily on indymedia boards...), calling others pathetic because they didn't use violent tactics (I'm not a pacifist, by the way) is unhelpful, doesn't make you look good, and spreads totally pointless negativity. Hunger strikes are ways of demonstrating committment and solidarity - the women at yarls wood may take comfort from it (in my experience of protesting these detention centres the inhabitants feel so isolated that even a friendly wave or small protest outside is a wonderful thing for them), they can help garner public support, and raise awareness of the issue.
And I agree with the first poster - there's no point being sloppy, may as well get it right. But it is hardly a big problem.
Well done for the solidarity actions!
[I also know that there were information stalls in towns across the country (Oxford and London I saw personally, but I'm sure there were others) raising the profile of this issue, gathering petition signatures (I may not think it's tactically the best thing to do, but effective protest is hard and we shouldn't condemn others' efforts), etc. So well done to all those who are doing something.]


Maybe not everyone's cup of tea...EDM 919

24.02.2010 15:38

With a coherent list of demands, MP John McDonnell has put the following EDM together in support of the ladies...please ask your MP to sign up! (If nothing else, it shows their support - or otherwise - makes them aware of the issue and puts pressures on the Home Office)


McDonnell, John
That this House notes that women detained in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre have been on hunger strike since 5 February 2010 in protest against being detained for up to two years; condemns the detention of victims of rape and other torture, of mothers separated from their children and anyone who does not face imminent removal; believes that such detention flouts international conventions and UK immigration rules; requests that HM Inspector of Prisons urgently carries out an independent investigation into reports of violence, mistreatment and racist abuse from guards, being kettled for over five hours in a hallway, denied access to toilets and water and locked out in the freezing cold, which women have made to their lawyers, the media and supporters, including the All African Women's Group and Black Women's Rape Action Project; and calls for a moratorium on all removals and deportations of the women who took part in the hunger strike pending the results of that investigation.