“The Stansted 15 refused to say, “there’s nothing else we can do.” Instead, they did everything within their power to stop the charter flight”

The woman on the other end of the phone breaks down. She is crying too much for me to understand everything she’s saying, but I can clearly hear the words, “please, help me.”

“I’m so sorry,” I tell her, “there’s nothing else we can do.”

I have to say these words to people every week as they are forced onto planes that will fly them to places where they fear death, persecution, violence and destitution. These are often countries where detainees haven’t been for years or decades, or even in their living memory.

I work for SOAS detainee support, a small organisation that visits and supports people in immigration detention. I speak to people on a daily basis with different stories and different fears, but they all face the same crushing conditions of detention with the added exhausting struggle of fighting to remain in the UK.

Five years ago, an asylum seeker named Isa Muazu began a hunger strike at Harmondsworth detention centre. He faced deportation to Nigeria, where he feared he would be killed by Boko Haram. He maintained his hunger strike for three months, until he was so weakened that his organs began to shut down.

We organised a candlelight vigil calling for Isa’s release. It was December and the hot wax from our candles burned our freezing hands as we gathered outside the Home Office. We read out too many names of those who had been killed, or taken their own lives in immigration detention, and those who were in contact with Isa talked about his story, and his determination to resist his removal.

A few days later, Isa was forced onto a flight and removed from the UK. We felt powerless, angry and heartbroken. We had worked as hard as we could. There was nothing else we could have done, we told each other.

These words seem to echo louder each time I’ve had to repeat them over the years. But honestly, they aren’t strictly true. Because if that person were my mother, brother, or my friend, wouldn’t I try to put my body in the way of their forced removal from this country?

The Stansted 15 refused to say, “there’s nothing else we can do.” Instead, they accepted an inconvenient truth and they did everything within their power to stop people being flown to what they had every reason to believe was their deaths. Yesterday, after spending the last ten weeks in court facing a charge which carries a potential life sentence, they were found guilty under terror legislation of endangering an airport, despite no harm being caused to anyone by their actions.

They calmly walked up to the parked plane that would deport around 60 people to Nigeria and Ghana and locked themselves around the front wheel, and around a tripod behind the wing.

Because of their protest, 11 people are still in the UK today who would have been removed on that flight, four have been referred to the National Referral Mechanism for people who have been victims of human trafficking, and one person has been granted leave to remain.

The vast majority of the people I talk to in detention are afraid and confused. With severely limited access to information or adequate legal advice, there are innumerable barriers to people winning their fights to stay.

The UK is the only country in Europe to allow indefinite detention. Along with being separated from friends and family, the fear of being removed, and the abuses suffered in detention, the psychological pressure that this puts on detainees is devastating.There were two suicide attempts every day in UK detention centres this summer.

Others that I speak to are outraged and justifiably angry and, like the women in Yarl’s Wood who have been on hunger strike for the second time this year, are determined to fight the abuses of the immigration system from inside detention.

Sometimes, our visitors are lucky enough to see the people they are supporting be successful in their fight to remain in the UK. Too often, the barriers to success are insurmountable and the friendships that have built up between visitors and people in detention are abruptly ended by removal.

Recently, we began visiting a young Kurdish man from Iraq. Both his parents had been killed and he was certain the same would happen to him if he had remained at home. He was attempting to gather evidence to add the weight of paperwork to his testimony. Before he could do this, he was dragged from detention and forced on to a plane headed for Baghdad. We called and called to try to make contact with him, but the line was dead. And the visitors who were supporting him are still left wracked by questions about whether there was anything else we could have done.

The Stansted 15 looked our rotten immigration system in the eye and exercised the power they had to stop an injustice against the people on that flight. Not everyone is able to take that kind of action, and it seems clear to me that the decision to use terrorism legislation in this case was an attempt to make this form of civil disobedience even harder. But, after watching my friends politely argue for their freedom from the dock, the words “there’s nothing else we can do” are becoming harder and harder to say.

Written by Maddy Evans, current SDS coordinator. Originally posted on Independent Voices: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/stansted-15-trial-guilty-verdict-deportation-flight-airport-immigration-law-detentions-a8677811.html?amp&__twitter_impression=true

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Closing Yarl’s Wood and Brook House is a welcome step forward.

Diane Abbott’s proposal to close Yarl’s Wood and Brook House and end outsourcing in immigration detention provision is a welcome step forward in Labour Party policy. The announcement comes following a mass protest in Yarl’s Wood and a Panorama documentary that included undercover footage of appalling conditions in detention and abuse inflicted on detainees.

Although Yarl’s Wood and Brook House have become lightning-rods for immigration detention controversy, they differ little from other detention centres. 43 people have died in immigration detention since it started, including 4 people in Morton Hall (Lincolnshire) in 2017 alone. Colnbrook near Heathrow has one of the harshest regimes within the detention estate where people are locked in cells from 9pm to 8am. Harmondsworth, also near Heathrow, is the biggest detention centre in Europe and was the site of mass protests in 2014 and 2015, and there have been similar protests in Campsfield and Dungavel.

The problem cannot be associated with individual places of detention. It lies with a policy that gives the Home Office licence to lock people up based on their nationality, and a society that turns a blind eye to the inevitable violence dealt out on working class people of colour in any system designed for mass deportation.

Closing down Yarl’s Wood and Brook House would be an important step but it must be done within a wider policy that takes detention out of the immigration system altogether.

 

Press Release: Yarl’s Wood detainees end hunger strike after one month; Hunger for Freedom protests continue

PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Wednesday 21st March 2017

==

CONTACT SOAS Detainee Support

For more information

Email: sdsmediaenquiries@gmail.com

Phone: Lex 07454417517

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Yarl’s Wood detainees end hunger strike after one month; but Hunger for Freedom protests continue

 

  • People detained at Yarl’s Wood started a series of hunger strikes, work strikes and occupations on Wednesday 21st February
  • On Wednesday 21st March, strikers have announced they are ending their hunger strike but will continue Hunger for Freedom protests and refuse to participate in their detention
  • Demonstrations are taking place in cities across the UK in a National Day of Action in solidarity with the strikers.

 

Immigration detainees at Yarl’s Wood have been staging hunger strikes, work strikes and a series of occupations inside the building since Wednesday 21st February.  They are calling for an end to indefinite detention, an end to mass deportations by charter flight, and an end to mistreatment at the detention centre. A full list of strikers’ demands is published on the Detained Voices website [1].

In a statement this morning [2], the strikers in Yarl’s Wood have announced an end to the hunger strike, but a continuation of Hunger for Freedom protests. The strikers’ emphasise; “We are still hungry for our freedom and justice. We will continue to fight for our human rights and will not participate in our own detention” [2] . The strikers will continue to organise internally and fight for their demands.

The statement outlines that many of the original group of strikers are no longer at Yarl’s Wood, having been deported or released back into the community. Strikers emphasise that; “this action only highlights the reasons we were driven to take such drastic measures, as the Home Office, rather than being concerned with our welfare […] instead capitalised on our weakened state.” [2]

Solidarity groups will be staging demonstrations in

Glasgow: https://www.facebook.com/events/319801881880913

Leeds: https://www.facebook.com/events/361984667615143/

Liverpool: https://www.facebook.com/events/397793477351203/

Bristol: https://www.facebook.com/events/560292434350887/

Manchester: https://twitter.com/WASTCampaigning/status/976239864873136128

Campaigners in London will demonstrate outside the Home Office on Marsham Street from 4.30pm [3].  The demonstration will feature a live telephone link-up with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers over a PA system.  Demonstrators include SOAS Detainee Support, London Latinxs, and the All African Women’s Group, many of whom have formerly been detained in Yarl’s Wood and continue to face the asylum system.

Yesterday, members of the Home Affairs Select Committee questioned Serco on the demands of the hunger strikers, but the Home Office are yet to respond. Members of Parliament including Diane Abbott, David Lammy, Ruth Smeeth, Jess Phillips, Yvette Cooper and Stuart McDonald have spoken in Parliament during the hunger strike about their concerns regarding the use of immigration detention. Stuart McDonald of the Home Affairs Select Committee, met with strikers on 16/03/18 and expressed solidarity with their cause [4]. In a debate in the House of Commons with other MPs about the strikes and state of immigration detention in the UK, McDonald emphasised, “it is time for a radical reform of detention in the UK” [5].

The strikers call on everyone to show their solidarity and support;

“We must all fight together to stop this spiral into division, intolerance and the disintegration of liberty, for liberty is easily lost but very hard earned as history proves over and over.” [2]

NOTES

Yarl’s Wood is an Immigration Removal Centre in Bedford operated by the private company Serco on behalf of the Home Office. The centre has capacity for up to 410 detainees. It is the UK’s only detention centre that primarily holds women.

Around 30,000 people are detained in immigration detention centres each year in the UK. The UK is the only country in Europe with no specified legal time limit for detention.  Many detainees are held for months or years with no release date. Detainees and campaigners argue detention is harmful and unnecessary.

 

[1] The strikers’ demands https://detainedvoices.com/2018/02/25/the-strikers-demands/

[2] Strikers’ statement 21st March https://detainedvoices.com/2018/03/21/today-marks-the-28th-day-since-we-began-our-strike-here-in-yarls-wood/

[3] London Demonstration https://www.facebook.com/events/1798045227156286/?notif_t=plan_user_joined&notif_id=1521461058215043

[4] Stuart McDonald’s visit https://detainedvoices.com/2018/03/17/we-hope-the-home-office-will-have-to-face-questions-from-the-committee/

[5] Transcript of Parliament debate https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-03-06/debates/71488055-CD22-4018-B1BF-D12A31DCDF55/Yarl%E2%80%99SWoodDetentionCentre

THREE WEEKS ON – updated ways to show your solidarity with the Yarl’s Wood strikers

Three weeks ago today, 120 people in a detention centre in Bedfordshire (which holds mainly but not only women) started a hunger strike. It gathered momentum and has escalated into an all-out strike: work strikes, occupations, and a refusal to co-operate with the mechanisms of detention from the inside.

People inside continue to strike to demand that their voices are heard.  The strikers’ latest testimony on the Detained Voices website, released today, calls for a meeting with the Home Affairs Select Committee. This Committee are due to meet with private security company Serco, who run Yarl’s Wood, next week.

How can you continue to support the protests and stand in solidarity with the hunger strikers?

  1. Sign the Petition –  calling on the Home Office to grant the demands of Yarl’s Wood strikers
  2. Send a letter to your MP outlining what the strikers are calling for. Use this template, use the Write to Them website
  3. Tweet Solidarity photos – tweet, retweet and share photos holding signs of support for Yarl’s Wood strikers, and share using hashtag #HungerForFreedom.  Amplify the voices of the strikers by retweeting their accounts from @detainedvoices
  4. Support the strikers call on the Home Affairs Select Committee to meet with the strikers before they question Serco on Tuesday 20 March, and to question the Home Office and Immigration Minister by contacting the committee to let them know the strikers demands. On Tuesday 20th March 2018, the Home Affairs Select Committee are meeting to discuss Serco’s contract with the Home Office. The Yarl’s Wood Strikers are requesting a meeting with Yvette Cooper, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as any other members of the Committee as possible. The hunger strike is now into its third week. Over the weekend, a number of strikers were deported despite attempts to prevent this. It is imperative that the strikers are involved in the Committee’s decision as to whether Serco should retain its contract with the Home Office, particularly in light of the alleged abuses detainees have faced at the hands of Serco employees. We are asking you to contact Yvette Cooper, Stephen Shaw and their teams to request that they meet with the strikers before the Committee makes a decision on this important matter. [Full contact list and templates below]

Contact points

Select Committee members @CommonsHomeAffs

LINK TO: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/

Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP (Chair) Labour @yvettecoopermp

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/yvette-cooper/420

Rehman Chishti MP Conservative @rehman_chishti

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/rehman-chishti/3987

Sir Christopher Chope MP Conservative

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/sir-christopher-chope/242

Stephen Doughty MP Labour (Co-op) @sdoughtymp

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/stephen-doughty/4264

Kirstene Hair MP Conservative @kirstene4angus

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/kirstene-hair/4675

Sarah Jones MP Labour @laboursj

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/sarah-jones/4631

Tim Loughton MP Conservative @timloughton

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/tim-loughton/114

Stuart C. McDonald MP Scottish National Party @stuart_mcdonald

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/stuart-c.-mcdonald/4393

Douglas Ross MP Conservative @douglas4moray

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/douglas-ross/4627

Naz Shah MP Labour @nazshahbfd

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/naz-shah/4409

John Woodcock MP Labour (Co-op) @jwoodcockmp

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/john-woodcock/3917

——-
Email template
To [Yvette Cooper/Stephen Shaw/etc],
I am contacting you as a concerned member of the public who has been following the Yarl’s Wood hunger strike. There are 120 women and men who are on hunger and work strike demanding significant, wide-reaching and reasonable changes to the detention policy. The demands of the strikers can be read here: [https://detainedvoices.com/2018/02/25/the-strikers-demands/]
The strikers have requested a meeting with yourself and the rest of the Home Affairs Select Decision before your meeting on Tuesday 20th March 2018 to discuss Serco’s contract with the Home Office. The strikers’ request can be read here: [https://detainedvoices.com/2018/03/14/we-the-yarls-wood-strikers-would-like-to-meet-with-yvette-cooper-chair-of-the-home-affairs-select-committee/]
I am imploring you to follow up on this request and arrange a meeting with the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers before you meet with Serco. Please discuss the strikers’ demands, the UK’s detention policy and Serco’s role in it, and the conditions in detention centres across the UK.
Please, allow their voices to be heard as they are vital in any assessment of Serco’s role in the immigration detention system.
Yours sincerely,
[Name]

[Postcode]

Twitter template

Please meet with the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers before your 20 Mar meeting to discuss Serco’s contract with the Home Office! This is their request on changing UK’s detention policy and the conditions in the IRCs: https://detainedvoices.com/2018/03/14/we-the-yarls-wood-strikers-would-like-to-meet-with-yvette-cooper-chair-of-the-home-affairs-select-committee/
#HungerForFreedom

Five ways you can show solidarity with #HungerForFreedom

On Wednesday 21st February, 120 people in an immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire (which holds mainly but not only women) started a hunger strike. It gathered momentum and has escalated into an all-out strike: work strikes, occupations, and a refusal to co-operate with the mechanisms of detention from the inside.

“After an initial 3 day hunger strike where the Home Office refused to acknowledge the hunger strike, it is clear that they are not listening to us. On Monday 26/02/18, we will cease to participate in detention, we will not eat, use their facilities or work for them.”

The hunger strikers are being met with victimisation and threats from the Home Office.  Publicly, the Home Office has issued an official denial that hunger strikes are taking place; privately, they have issued strikers with letters threatening to ‘accelerate’ removal because of their actions.  Full statements and documents can be read on Detained Voices.

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How can you support the protests and stand in solidarity with the hunger strikers?

  1. Sign the Petition –  calling on the Home Office to grant the demands of Yarl’s Wood strikers
  2. Send a letter to your MP outlining what the strikers are calling for. Use this template, use the Write to Them website
  3. Tweet Solidarity photos – tweet, retweet and share photos holding signs of support for Yarl’s Wood strikers, and share using hashtag #HungerForFreedom.  Amplify the voices of the strikers by retweeting their accounts from @detainedvoices
  4. Join the one-day hunger strike in solidarity with the Yarl’s Wood strikers, on Thursday 8th March.  Take the pledge here: https://freedomfastyarlswood.com/
  5. Call a solidarity demonstration where you live, or join one of these upcoming actions:

 

London
Wednesday 28th February https://www.facebook.com/events/195464954519861

Glasgow
Thursday 1st March https://www.facebook.com/events/175515139745638/

Brighton
Tuesday 6th March https://www.facebook.com/events/1826035994365138/

Coventry
Wednesday 7th March https://twitter.com/caragcoventry/status/970410880910479361

London
Thursday 8th March https://www.facebook.com/events/341607709676089 

Leeds
Thursday 8th March https://www.facebook.com/events/2016757925230435

Glasgow
Thursday 8th March https://www.facebook.com/events/952394138270047 

Manchester
Thursday 8th March https://www.facebook.com/events/160214351363022

Send us your demonstration details: s.det.sup@gmail.com

 

4 actions you can take to support the Yarl’s Wood strikers

On Wednesday 21st of February a large group of women and men held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre began a coordinated 3-day hunger strike. The demands have been posted on the Detained Voices website.

They include:

  • Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and above
  • End indefinite detention – Detention periods shouldn’t be longer than 28 days
  • End Charter flights – Charter flights are inhumane because there are no prior notifications, or only an oral notification with no warning. They give no time to make arrangements with family.
  • No more re-detention – Redention should not be allowed – if you have been detained once, you should not be re-detained if you are complying with the laws they have applied. This is a contradiction, you are being punished for complying with the law; it ruins the whole purpose of expecting compliance

After receiving no response from the Home Office, the protesters have extended their strike.

“After an initial 3 day hunger strike where the Home Office refused to acknowledge the hunger strike, it is clear that they are not listening to us. On Monday 26/02/18, we will cease to participate in detention, we will not eat, use their facilities or work for them.”

Here are a number of ways those of us on the outside can support the protests:

  1. Sign the Petition –  calling on the Home Office to grant the demands of Yarl’s Wood strikers.
  2. Send a letter to you MP outlining what the strikers are calling for. Use this template, use the Write to Them website.
  3. Tweet Solidarity photos – tweet, retweet and share photos holding signs of support for Yarl’s Wood strikers, and share using hashtag #HUNGERFORFREEDOM
  4. Attend the Demo in London – Emergency protest outside the Home Office on Wednesday. Here are the details.

Ways of creatively amplifying the demands of the protesters, bringing them offline to new audiences are much appreciated.

 

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