Campaigners from across the UK protested at the immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire on Saturday, December 4, demanding that the detention centre be shut down. The centre, which mainly holds women and children, is one of 13 such centres in the UK and is operated by Serco, a private company contracted by the government. The protest, organised by the campaign group Movement for Justice and led by former detainees, involved over 2,000 protesters transported in on 24 coaches all across the country.
The first ‘Shut Down Yarl’s Wood’ demonstration was attended by just 30 activists now just 10 protests later the number of protesters has increased significantly. Various Leeds activist’s groups were involved in the protest including No Borders Leeds and Leeds University Union Feminist Society.
Protesters have argued that now more than ever the significance of Yarl’s Wood is pertinent with a wave of xenophobic sentiment and hate crimes being committed against minority groups in the UK following the EU referendum and the election of far-right Donald Trump.
Antonia Bright of campaign group Movement for Justice, which helped organise the demonstration, said: “Since then we have witnessed the Brexit phenomenon that saw leave campaigners place immigration at the centre of their campaign, spewing anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric. The result has been massively increased racist and xenophobic physical assaults and verbal attacks.”
Yarl’s Wood has seen numerous allegations of sexual abuse and racism with Nick Hardwick the chief inspector of prisons inspector of prisons calling the facility “a place of national concern” in August this year. Hardwick went on to say that: We should not make the mistake of blaming most of this on the staff on the ground. While there have been instances of unacceptable individual behaviour, most staff work hard to mitigate the worst effects of detention and women told us they appreciated this.
“Yarl’s Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held. These are issues that need to be addressed at a policy and strategic management level.”
Stephen Shaw, formerly in charge of prison and probation complaints, conducted a report published in January this year commissioned by Theresa May. The conclusions of the report called for ministers to reduce the volume of people detained each year, especially those who had been victims of sexual abuse and PTSD in addition to those with learning disabilities.