Over 2,000 protesters staged a mass demonstration against Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire last Saturday. It is one of Britain’s largest immigration detention centres.
The protest was electric. After walking a mile or two from the road where we got off the coaches, we surrounded the detention centre.
The most notable chant of the day was, “Shut it down, shut it down”.
Looking up, we could see windows open and arms hanging out, waving in support of our demonstration and holding up signs and messages.
There were thousands of us kicking the iron walls that surround the building. We were chanting, there were drums and people were dancing.
We had moments of silence, moments of rage and moments of listening to the stories of women who have been released from Yarl’s Wood.
Some of the organisers from Movement for Justice set up a sound system and managed to call and broadcast the voices of some of the women inside.
They communicated their gratitude for the demonstration. One woman said, “We are not criminals.
“We are law abiding citizens, but we have been locked up, far away from the real world just for existing.”
Another woman told protesters that their detention is a human rights infringement. She spoke of the “injustice” that detainees suffer daily at the hands of the police.
Some protesters lit flares, others spraypainted “Set her free” on the fences that separated us from those detained.
Many of us hung up our signs on the fencing opposite the centre, so that our messages could be read by the women inside.
One of those women is Diane Ngoza, a Ghanian refugee from Manchester. A broad range of campaigns in the city are fighting attempts to deport her.
Several women were held in isolation in Yarl’s Wood last month amid fears of a tuberculosis outbreak. One detainee was hospitalised.
One of those quarantined was a young woman from Kenya.
She said, “I’m angry, to be honest. The staff have been speculating for weeks my friend could have TB—we asked to be tested and we were turned down.
“I don’t feel safe. So many people are coughing and ill—why isn’t everyone being tested?”
Three detention officers are on bail over allegations of rape, abuse and misconduct at Yarl’s Wood. It follows previous sexual and racist abuse uncovered by Channel 4 journalists.
Freedom of Information figures last month revealed that 218 hunger strikes took place in detention in the three months to September.
The barbaric jailing of refugees must be abolished.