Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre is located in an unassuming, quiet rural area of Bedfordshire, deliberately hidden well away from the gaze of the public. However, earlier this year, on 13th May, two thousand protesters from across the country refused to let this abusive and inhumane centre go unnoticed anymore.
Activists, organised by the “Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary”, arrived with banners, chants and militant anger. They surrounded the building and created a wall of noise, kicking at the fence and shouting messages of support to the women held inside. The tiny, mirror-plated windows of the centre only opened two or three inches, but the women inside waved homemade signs and flags with messages demanding their freedom and sending wishes to loved ones. Chants of “shut it down” and “we will win” were led by former detainees of Yarl’s Wood.
Since it opened in 2001, the Yarl's Wood Centre - run with staff from the private security firm Serco - has been the focus of continued controversy around the treatment and safety of the people held there. Accusations include violence, sexual abuse and inhumane treatment.
The movement against Yarl’s Wood, however, including the protest on 13th May, is not simply calling for better conditions for the women held at the centre. The militant demand being put forward is clearly to have Yarl's Wood and all the other detention centres shut down.
The majority of protesters involved in this movement are people with experience of the UK’s racist immigration system and young people who have been politicised by recent events, such as the refugee crisis and the continued xenophobic and anti-immigration rhetoric used by the Tory Party and the media.
We must fight for an end to the horrific treatment of people migrating to or seeking refuge in the UK; the abolition of detention centres; and an end to all private contracts for companies such as Serco.
We must also, however, consistently make the bold, political argument that the anti-immigration sloganeering used by the Tories and capitalist politicians internationally is a complete fallacy. The British economy - run by spivs and speculators - depends on the cheap, unregulated labour of many people working in the UK illegally. The continued exploitation of migrants, and the intimidation used against them by the police and UK immigration forces to stop them from speaking about this, are a deliberate strategy to undermine their communities and create tension and divisions within working class communities.
Shut it down! Together we will win!