NCAFC member and phd student Arianna Tassinari reports on yesterday’s demonstration outside the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.
Activists from all over the UK descended on Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire on November 7th, as part of a national mobilisation organised by the Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary and supported by a wide number of organisations. The demonstration called for an immediate end to the practice of immigration detention and the closure of Yarl’s Wood, and acted as a rallying call against the xenophobic and racist migration policy agenda pursued by UK government. Yarl’s Wood is one of the 13 detention centres in the UK, and it has been repeatedly condemned for the extremely poor treatment of detainees since it was opened in 2001, including allegations of sexual abuse and other forms of mistreatment against detainees.
A 1,500 strong, powerful and loud contingent led by migrants, asylum seekers and former detainees marched towards Yarl’s Wood through muddy fields, to assemble at the fences which surround the isolated prison-like complex, defeating the pouring rain. In the second nation-wide mobilisation to target the centre in a few months, the protesters – who had gathered from all over the country, coming from as far as Glasgow – raised chants demanding freedom for and expressing solidarity with the 350 women detained inside, and with all migrants suffering at the hands of the British state. The protest was deliberately loud, banging on the 3 meters high fence which surrounds the centre to break the isolation of the detainees, who participated in the demo from the inside by waving flags and handmade signs from their windows. A primary aim of the protest was indeed to give more voice and visibility to the fight for freedom which the women inside Yarl’s Wood have been leading for months, through petitioning, demonstrating, wearing handmade ‘Freedom’ t-shirts and defending each other from the threat of deportation. Activists climbed on the fence to raise a giant banner and release balloons over the fence; whilst detained women inside spoke to the crowd gathered outside via phone, sending an inspiring message of freedom, resilience and courage.
The importance of this demonstration and of the messages it raised cannot be overstated enough. In the current climate of rising xenophobia and increasing attacks on migrants’ rights to freedom of movement and safe existence within this country, whilst refugees keep suffering and dying at the borders of Fortress Europe, the fight against all borders and to defend and reclaim the rights of all migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to live, work, study, exist safely in this country needs to be at the heart of our movement. Already the National Demonstration for Free Education on November 4th raised ‘No borders’ as a key slogan of our mobilisation – against the attacks that international students in Further and Higher Education face at the hands of the Government, and against the border regime which operates within and through the education system, and that our education institutions become guilty of reproducing and re-enacting.
But the fight against xenophobia and the movement of solidarity with migrants needs to be brought forward, right at the heart of our campuses. As the reading in Parliament of the Government’s Immigration Bill draws closer, we must raise loud and clear the message that students in this country stand in solidarity with all migrants and international students, against all xenophobia and against all borders. NCAFC takes inspiration from the struggle of the women of Yarl’s Wood, and in this spirit of solidarity we will be mobilising en masse on local campuses for the national day of solidarity with international students and migrants on November 17th called by the NUS’ International Students Campaign.