CN: Sexual assault and racism.

 

We arrive after an hour and a half of driving from London and walk from the side of a narrow country road through two farms and around the fence. We’ve done the walk through mud, on ice and under a hot sun, but each time we get to Yarl’s Wood it’s the same: we bang on the fences as loud as we can, we wave and we cry, while the women inside stick paper notes through the cracks in their windows and call to be set free.

Graffiti written by activists outside the Yarl’s Wood detention centre reads “Set her free”

Last week, there was a frenzied chorus of condemnation of the United States’ practice of separating children from their families crossing the border into the States. Theresa May was pressured to speak out on the issue and made an interesting statement: “This is wrong, this is not something we agree with, this is not the United Kingdom’s approach,” she said, asserting that this was not “the British way.”

 

But what exactly is “the British way?”

 

To start with, the United Kingdom is the only country in Europe to practice indefinite detention of migrants and asylum seekers. People arriving in the UK are placed in detention centres – essentially prisons – on the orders of the Home Office (not judges) for months on end with no idea when they will be freed. The Home Office is locking up nearly 30,000 people, including children, every year. In this system, children are sometimes imprisoned on their own and sometimes they remain outside while their mothers or fathers are detained for months on end.

 

At Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre specifically for women and families, there are nearly 400 people being incarcerated currently. Sexual abuse, racism and intimidation in Yarl’s Wood have been reported for years, while parents inside are separated from their children, with strict visiting times and grim conditions.

 

Yarl’s Wood is run by Serco, a private company who profit from racist border control and detention. That powerful businesses like Serco and G4S have financial incentive to maintain indefinite detention and the power to influence policy is a grim fact of disaster capitalism. They also use detainees as cheap labour: the women of Yarl’s Wood are paid just £1 an hour to clean their own surroundings or cook food for other detainees.

The high fences that surround Yarl’s Wood detention centre

The British political classes’ outrage about America’s particular brand of anti-immigrant racism demonstrates some extraordinarily audacious hypocrisy. The “British way” is nothing to celebrate.

 

Young Greens will be joining groups of activists and current and former asylum seekers and detainees at Yarl’s Wood this Saturday, calling on our government to shut down all detention centres.

 

The women inside have organised this demonstration with the activists outside, and they will come to their windows and speak to us through phones as we share another day together in solidarity, anger and hope. Please read the words and demands written by the women of Yarl’s Wood and then book a place on a bus to join us in fighting to shut down Yarl’s Wood and all detention centres.

About Vicky Elliott

Vicky is a feminist activist and the Senate Co-chair on the Young Greens Executive Committee.