What happened when 2000 people went to shut down Yarl’s Wood

What happened when 2000 people went to shut down Yarl’s Wood


By: Morten Thaysen
Date: 15 March 2016

yarls_wood_rainbowThe fences around Yarl’s Wood are tall and reinforced. Hundreds of us line up with our backs against them and kick with the flats of our feet. As the sound resonates and we hear the chanting from inside the detention centre, I realise the importance of us being there protesting in solidarity with people caught by our unjust immigration system.

On Saturday I joined 2000 people to travel to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre to protest the inhumanity of detaining refugees and migrants. It isn’t criminal to seek asylum, but the people inside are treated as such. The detention centre can hold 410 people, most of them being women.  Since it opened in 2001 Yar’ls Wood has faced a series of allegations of abuse, poor health care and inappropriate sexual contact. The detainees’ resilience is apparent with numerous protests and hunger strikes in response. The fact that socio-political crises that are currently causing people to seek asylum in the first place, and the way migrants are inhumanely treated every step of the way, puts even more pressure on us to get organised. The protest was arranged by Movement for Justice and supported by groups from all over the country. I went with Global Justice Now’s London Action Network.

I didn’t know what to expect from the day, but stepping off the coach there was a sense of optimism and unity with an atmosphere of anger and determination. Hidden away behind a remote business park, the detention centre was unmarked; its real function revealed instead by the fences, barbed wire and cameras. The look, location and ambiguity of the building was unsettling. To get as close as we could we walked for about 15 minutes along the side of an outer fence until we came to an opening. With only one fence separating us from the centre demonstrators settled and started chanting.

The detainees realised what was happening and joined the protestors by shouting along, then something uplifting started to happen. A constant stream of chanting by the protestors outside would suddenly fall silent, a pause- then chanting from inside the centre would send everyone present into a roar of noise, chanting and whooping.  The windows of the detention centre wouldn’t open all the way and so to communicate the women inside would hold pieces of paper and clothes through the jarred windows. This exchange went on for 3 to 4 hours. There was a mixture of feelings that stirred within the people leaving the demo. The realisation that we were able to do just that.

The power I saw and heard from the women inside Yarl’s Wood on Saturday has left me feeling inspired and determined. Asylum isn’t a crime. Shut it down.