By Alistair Farrow
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Asylum seekers’ horror shows why we should march on Yarl’s Wood

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Issue 2494
Hundreds of angry protesters descended on Yarl’s Wood detention centre last June demanding its closure
Hundreds of angry protesters descended on Yarl’s Wood detention centre last June demanding its closure (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Some 569 asylum seekers in Britain were forced to sleep in a disused freight shed in Dover between August and October last year. This included 90 children, who also had to sleep on the concrete floor with no bedding.

The episode exposes the racism and brutality at the heart of Britain’s immigration detention system. It also gives lie to claims that asylum seekers are given special treatment and lavished with hotel rooms.

The UK Border Agency claims that detention is necessary and is only used as a last resortand for the shortest time possible.Yet detentionoften lasts months, or even a year or more. People in these refugee prisons don’t count down the days—they count up.

The state depicts asylum seekers, refugees and migrants as criminals in order to justify the brutal way it treats them. Politicians and other hypocrites in the media draw links between them and terrorism while at the same time condemning conditions in detention centres.

In March 2014 Labour’sformer shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said,“We all agree immigration rules must be enforced and that includes deportations and, for some people, temporary detention. But it must be done humanely with high standards and safeguards in place.”

Handwringing aside, the real problem isusingprivate firms to run a detention system to imprison people for wanting a better life. Expansion of immigration “Removal Centres” has gone hand in hand with privatisation andhas been a testing ground for pushing the market into prisons in Britain.

The state has had the legal power to detain immigrants since the Immigration Act 1971 and detention centres have been around since 1989. However, the first purpose-built centre to deport people opened in 1996. Tinsley House supposedly represented a new “caring custody” model of kicking people out of Britain and was lauded by Prince Charles and religious and political leaders.


The Wackenhut Corporation, now G4S, ran Tinsley House and developed the idea of “dynamic security”. This was allegedly to create a relationship of trust between guards and detainees.

This model has been adopted across the British prison service. G4S’s operations in the US offer a stark warning about the privatisation of the prison and detention system.

Its employees have been convicted in cases that have included rape and murder. The detention centres and prisons it runs in the US have been wracked by scandal after scandal.

Theimageof “caring custody” in Britain quickly broke down. In 2002 detainees at the newly built Yarl’s Wood detention centre, run by Serco, near Bedford burned down large parts of the centre in a protest atconditions in the centre.

Sexual and physical abuseis widely reported in detention centres. Violent arrest and deportations have led to deaths in custody.

The Global Detention Project notes that since 2005 the state has moved to “introduce a new asylum process”. It detains “more people and uses other means of contact like tagging to prevent people absconding when they are ready to be removed”.

The threat of detention is used to police people in the process of claiming asylum. But detainees and their supporters are fighting back. There have been demonstrations inside and outside detention centres.

Racism is at the core of the growing private detention industry in Britain and we must redouble our efforts to have them all shut down.

The next step is joining the demonstration this Saturday outside Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

Saturday 12 March, 1pm, Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre,Twinwoods Business Park,ThurleighRd, Milton Ernest, Bedford MK44 1FD

Surround #YarlsWood demonstration: Detention Centres SHUT THEM DOWN!
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