Socialist Worker

Labour's punishing trial for the Yarls Wood refugees

Issue No. 1860

REFUGEES WHO hoped to find peace and justice in Britain have been grilled by prosecution lawyers in the Yarls Wood trial taking place at Harrow Crown Court. Yarls Wood is New Labour's refugee detention centre in Bedfordshire. After a fire destroyed most of the centre on 14 February last year the refugees were arrested and faced charges including violent disorder. They could be sent to prison.

Five charges against the accused men have been dropped altogether, and already two defendants have been acquitted. One of these was immediately seized by police as he left the dock and taken to the Dungavel detention centre in Scotland. The trial ordeal for eight men has gone on, and the prosecution is due to close on Monday of next week.

Yarls Wood was New Labour's flagship detention centre, the largest one in Europe. The centre was designed to incarcerate 900 men, women and children, held without charge or trial.

New Labour handed the centre over to Group 4, the private security firm. It was run on the lines of a category B prison. The government has been eager to show how harsh it can be to vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution.

It has driven some refugees to desperate measures. Shahin Portohfeh is the second man from Iran to stitch up his eyes, ears and mouth in protest at the Home Office's decision to deport him. Dave Goodfield said, 'After four days without food or drink the Coventry Stop the War Coalition assembled about 35 people outside Shahin's house with messages pleading with him to save his own life.

'Neighbours from the street were determined to show solidarity and concern for this young man. Their support gave him the confidence to give up his ordeal. Then last Friday over 80 people met again in the street with banners and placards saying 'Stop the war on asylum seekers'. They included neighbouring families, black and white, and they heard Shahin thank them.'

Campaigners have also been protesting in support of the Yarls Wood refugee defendants. They have won the backing of Amnesty International, Liberty, the Fire Brigades Union, and MPs including Jeremy Corbyn and Neil Gerrard.

They are demanding justice for the refugees, while New Labour, the Tories and right wing press only howl for more savage measures against asylum seekers.

The trial is taking place at Harrow Crown Court in Hailsham Drive. The nearest tube station is Harrow & Wealdstone.
For more information phone 07786 517 379 or e-mail

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Sat 19 Jul 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1860
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