SDS Statement – Yarl’s Wood Demonstration

The recent testimonies describing abuse within Movement for Justice came as a shock to many organising groups. SDS, like many others, has had to consider at length how best to respond and proceed when events like this unfold.

In light of the organisation’s response to allegations of abuse, and events that have occurred since, SDS has made the collective decision to no longer attend the demonstration at Yarl’s Wood on Saturday.

We are concerned that the demonstration may not be a safe space for all involved and the reality of this would detract from the solidarity we wish to show with the women inside Yarl’s Wood. We urge people who are planning to go to not do so alone, to look after yourselves and each other.

As in our previous statement, SDS situates itself in a movement that fights for an end to borders and prisons and depends on safe and supportive spaces where the voices of those affected directly by the detention system are centered and listened to. Consequently, SDS feels that there must be a collective responsibility not to recreate structures of violence, oppression and abuse.

We stand in solidarity with those affected by immigration detention, and the hostile environment in the UK. We will continue to educate, strategise and build towards our vision: a world without borders or prisons.

In solidarity,

SOAS Detainee Support

 

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SDS statement – Unfollow Movement for Justice Testimonies

On 19th October a former member of Movement for Justice released a testimony disclosing harassment, abuse and control committed by the organisation. This was followed by further testimonies of a similar nature from other people who have been involved in MfJ. These were disclosed on the Facebook page and on the Unfollow MfJ blog.

These testimonies include disturbing accounts of individual manipulation, abuse and control by high-level organisers of MfJ, as well as systemic problems in how asylum seekers, young migrants and people of colour are treated and viewed within MfJ organising. The Unfollow MfJ statements indicate a serious tokenizing and marginalizing of migrant voices, undermining MfJ’s claim to place these voices at the centre of their organisation. The testimonies also describe people’s personal lives being controlled by organisers in the group, and outline serious manipulation and harassment by some MfJ organisers following any challenge of this control. Regarding MfJ’s response to these testimonies, there are online comments from MfJ members that seem to attempt to discredit the Unfollow MfJ statements by portraying them as coming from the right and playing into the agendas of right wing views, white supremacy and racism. This cynical and dismissive response does not create an environment that enables people who have experienced abuse, control or harassment to speak out. Rather, it enables abuses of power to go unchallenged.

SDS want to express our solidarity with the people who have come forward about the abuses of power within the organisation. We appreciate that it must have been incredibly difficult to do so, especially given the many forms of discrimination and silencing that seem to have been permitted for ‘the sake of the movement’, both historically and at present. The movement in which SDS situates itself is one that fights for an end to borders and prisons and depends upon safe and supportive spaces where all those working towards this goal feel able to express their opinions. Consequently, SDS feels that we have a responsibility not to recreate structures of violence, oppression and abuse. We’re concerned that MfJ has dismissed the statements without addressing them, without exploring what could have happened differently, and without seeing that the people involved are okay. There have been no indications that MfJ is engaging in a process of accountability, or that they are working towards ensuring the same patterns of abuse and control do not repeat themselves. This is distinctly discouraging and disappointing from a group that claims to ‘fight for everyone’. We want the survivor(s) to know that we stand with them and do not align ourselves with groups who dismiss or disregard the importance of these disclosures.

One of MfJ’s most well-known activities over the past few years has been the Shut Down Yarl’s Wood demonstrations, which are incredibly moving protests led by the women inside Yarl’s Wood IRC. These protests are powerful displays of strength from, and solidarity with, the women held in this prison, and have been important in building visibilIty and momentum around the fight to end immigration detention. The next Yarl’s Wood demonstration is due to take place later this month on 18th November. SDS has been discussing whether attending this protest would indicate an acceptance and dismissal of what has unfolded about MfJ. Though we acknowledge that these demonstrations have been made bigger and louder with the help of MfJ organisers, both inside and outside Yarl’s Wood, we also feel that these demonstrations are not about, or for, MfJ. These demonstrations are about the women in Yarl’s Wood. They are about showing solidarity with their struggle. These demonstrations are spaces where we can visually and vocally show that we stand with the women inside; that we admire their courage and strength; that we are listening. We feel that to not turn up on the 18th would be a huge disappointment for the women inside Yarl’s Wood. It should not be these women who suffer the consequences of a group’s harmful actions. SDS will therefore be heading to Yarl’s Wood to show solidarity with the women inside just as before but will be taking alternative transport to MfJ’s buses, details about this will be coming out soon.

In solidarity,

SOAS Detainee Support

Crowdfunder Update

In just over two weeks, the SDS crowdfunder has raised £5,540 – what is there to say other than a huge THANK YOU!  This amount takes us to almost 80% of our £7,000 target, and has come from 143 individual donations.

Lots has happened in the past two weeks:

We were devastated to hear of the tragic death in Harmondsworth. It’s hard to imagine what people in local detention centres must be experiencing right now. Our statement can be found here. Sadly, another death was reported yesterday at Dungavel IRC in Scotland. To anyone in detention, or visiting those in detention who are feeling unsettled or in need of support you can get in touch with us to see if we can help in any way.

BBC Panorama released their undercover documentary, For many people this is the first insight they’ve had into the reality of the detention system. But for us, it didn’t go far enough. You can read comment from one of our members on the website here. The suspension of 9 G4S staff members will not change the disgusting and systemic abuse that occurs in detention centres all over the country.

The Home Affairs Select Committee met in response to the ‘situation’ at Brook House IRC. Both current and past G4S staff gave evidence as well as a member of the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group. We must remember that this incident has to be contextualised in the wider setting of the abuse of detention, unlimited detention time and the profits made by private companies who run these centres. We will be submitting evidence to the Committee along with many other groups and NGOs.

Stephen Shaw has begun his follow up report to the Home Office on the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons. The Home Office continues to be very vague about what they define as ‘vulnerable’ and how this will be measured.

We continue our visits, pairing more people with friends in detention who want support, and continuing to be active in the journey towards a world without prisons or borders. As ever, funding for such a taboo topic is difficult, and we are overwhelmed by the support that has been shown for this crowdfunder.

With only 10 days left on our campaign, we urge you to continue donating, sharing and encouraging other to donate. All money raised will go towards our running costs, enabling us to continue our visits in solidarity to those in immigration detention.

Solidarity,
SDS team

Statement concerning the death of a man following suicide attempt in Harmondsworth IRC 03/09/17

**CW: SUICIDE, DEATH, STATE VIOLENCE**

28-year old Polish immigration detainee dies after serious suicide attempt at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre this week.

In the same week that BBC’s Panorama revealed the systemic violence and abuse of immigration removal centres in the UK, a suicide has taken place in Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, close to Heathrow Airport.  

SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) has received reports from several people in detention that there was a suicide attempt in Harmondsworth IRC on Sunday 3rd September 2017.  Multiple people that SDS are in contact with have told us that a man from Poland hung himself with his mobile phone charger during lock-up after lunch on Sunday, and was taken away in an ambulance.

Since Sunday 3rd September SDS have been trying to obtain confirmation from the Home Office.  Until this afternoon (Friday 8th September) they outright denied that any incident had taken place.  The Home Office press office unequivocally stated to an SDS member over the telephone that there had been no death.

This afternoon, the Home Office have released a short statement confirming that a 28-year-old man has died.  Perhaps the refusal to release any information about this man’s suicide attempt and now death was linked to recent media coverage of immigration detention.  The UK’s already infamous detention centres are under the microscope this week following Monday night’s BBC Panorama.  

This suicide attempt has caused unfathomable distress and anxiety amongst detainees in Harmondsworth, and has contributed further to the creation of a toxic and harmful environment for the 400 men held in this centre.  Many SDS visitors have expressed strong concern regarding the people they are acting in solidarity with – some of whom have not slept or eaten properly since the harrowing incident on Sunday.

That this man at Harmondsworth was made to feel there were no options but to take his own life further highlights the violence of the UK’s detention system.

The abuse, assault, and maltreatment of people in detention has gained increasing visibility over the last few years.  This week’s undercover footage from Brook House aired on BBC Panorama showed the prevalence of suicide attempts and self-harm within detention, as well as regular physical abuse and assault by staff at the centre.

Channel 4 released similar footage filmed in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire, where predominantly women are detained, in 2015.

These recordings shine a light on these spaces that are otherwise completely hidden and secretive, states of exception with no safeguards or protections for those inside. What is hard to make visible is the isolation and desolation that detention system seeks to instil in people. Through physical segregation from the outside world, as well as the entrenchment of a culture of disbelief and suspicion regarding those who are detained, people inside are stripped of their agency and made to feel entirely alone. There have been 400 (recorded) suicide attempts in the past year and 29 recorded deaths since the 1990s (excluding this man).

BBC Panorama documents systemic violence of Immigration Detention

I just watched a harrowing episode of BBC Panorama that showed undercover footage from inside Brook House immigration detention centre, filmed by whistle-blower and reporter Callum Tulley. For those of us who have worked with people in detention even for a little while, the stories were both familiar and shocking.

The documentary did a number of things very well. At first, I was a little sceptical of the biographical focus of the documentary following the life of Tulley, an ordinary British ‘lad’ who got his first job, aged 18, as a detention centre officer. But it soon becomes clear that he’s giving an audience a lens through which to experience the mystifying and alien world of detention. It helped me understand the effects of detention on the guards without ever making us sympathise with the abuse that goes on at their hands. It also put front and centre the toxic masculinity that saturates the culture amongst the detention centre staff.

It captures footage of serious physical and psychological abuse on camera and successfully captures how common place it is. In contrast to the way G4S have tried to present the abuse as isolated incidents committed by particular individuals, the documentary presents abuse as systemic rather than down to a few individuals. It resonates with the feeling, I think widely held within the community of anti-detention organisations and activists, of outrage that such violence has been allowed to exist for so long in plain sight.

It makes us question how this has been allowed to continue. It reminds us of how the allegations of violence made particularly by people of colour against the police have been ignored for so long. It is all the more astounding given the number of recorded allegations of interpersonal and sexual violence committed in Detention Centres but also the mundane abuses – people working for slave wages, the constant verbal assault, the feelings powerlessness and confusion – that constitute the reality of detention. This reality is readily available by listening to people in detention through projects such as Detained Voices, Freed Voices and Detention Unlocked. Previous undercover footage, parliamentary reports, independent inquiries have all been pushed into the long grass.

However, there are also a number of reservations I have about the documentary. A big part of Callum’s experience seems to be about how wrong it is for people with criminal convictions to be incarcerated alongside other immigration and asylum applicants. The documentary reinforces a strong binary between Foreign National Offenders – who are presented as violent and dangerous – and others people in the immigration system – who are by contrast vulnerable and innocent.

The distinction perpetuates the binary logic of immigration control that enables the legitimate social exclusion of some people as well as the precarious inclusion of others. It allows a society to ignore violence perpetrated against those we deem to be guilty, illegitimate and unworthy of safety. But any contact with Foreign National Offenders will reveal people with complex histories and needs, people who have been damaged (not hardened) by the prison system, people who are facing removal to countries they have never known.

The narrative that migrant communities are particularly dangerous is also part of a well-tread racist mythology that casts people as undeserving of safety. The focus on the drug spice which is common in detention, again, seemed to be associated with the kind of people you find in detention rather than understood within the context of the institution itself.

We need to challenge these easy distinctions between who belongs and who does not and work towards a world where no one is expendable, deportable or detainable on the basis of their race or nationality. To be a part of this project there are practical things that can be done now. Please continue to speak out against detention and deportation and advocate for systemic change – time limits, judicial oversight, ending charter flights and much more. Attend Wednesdays’ protest at the Home Office calling for detention to be abolished. Listen to and amplify the voices of people speaking out from inside detention.

Please also consider supporting SDS to continue its work supporting people in detention by donating to its crowdfunder.

Written by Tom Kemp

SHUT DOWN BROOK HOUSE – Demo @ the Home Office 6/09/17

If you saw last night’s Panorama you’ll know how important it is to show up to this demonstration at the Home Office TOMORROW @ 12:30pm. Join Kent Anti Racism Network, Movement for Justice, SOAS Detainee Support and other groups in calling an end to detention centres and the violence on which they are premised.

All info here – see you there!