Protest to shut down Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in 2014. Credit: See Li

On International Women’s Day – 8 March – hundreds of friends and supporters of people incarcerated at Yarl´s Wood Immigration Detention Centre are going without food to draw attention to the struggle of the people detained there, many of whom have been on hunger strike. One of the freedom fasters explains why.

24 hours. I glance at the clock – there will be 24 hours to go until I eat again. The women in Yarl’s Wood, however, won’t have that luxury. For them, over 300 hours – over two weeks – have already passed since they began their hunger strike, and as of yet there’s no end in sight. How is it, that on 8th March 2018, less than 30 miles from my home, 120 women have been driven to put their bodies on the line in an effort to have their voices heard? Today marks International Women’s Day.  It also marks a 24-hour nationwide freedom fast alongside the people detained at Yarl’s Wood, which “all people of conscience” have been urged to join. I hope to count myself amongst them.

I’ve pledged to fast today to show solidarity with women like 27-year-old Opelo Kgari, a brave woman only a few years older than myself, who narrowly avoided being forcibly deported on Saturday night. If I were in her position right now, about to be marched onto a plane with little warning and seemingly no way out, I would be feeling numb at the injustice but sadly not surprised that this could be happening. It has happened and continues to happen in detention centres across the UK. We must help shatter the silence around this abhorrent practice once and for all.

The ‘freedom fast’ aims to raise awareness of the inhumane practices of the Home Office, which include attempting to intimidate the protestors by threatening to hasten their removal from the UK. Campaigners succeeded in preventing Opelo’s flight from taking off at the last minute, showing that our actions and calls to action can be successful, but the fight is far from over. We must continue to counter rhetoric designed to create a divisive and hostile environment for the marginalised with a reminder of our shared bonds and common humanity. Let us not forget that behind the terms “migrant”, “refugee” or “asylum seeker” is a real human being, one who deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion.

Claims have been made that some women may have stopped eating for “dietary or religious reasons.” I’m familiar with abstaining from food for religious reasons – fasting is a core pillar and beautiful tradition within my faith. A hunger strike, on the other hand, is a form of protest against an unjust system, born of desperation yet fueled by incredible strength to persevere. It is not beautiful – it is horrifying that such an action has been felt necessary. While we remember the historical actions of the suffragettes in calling for “deeds not words”, let us amplify the demands of the Hunger Strikers today.

Do we truly wish to live in a society where our neighbours can be dragged from their homes in the middle of the night and taken from our communities? Where the vulnerable, including victims of torture, human trafficking and rape, are being locked away in centres like Yarl’s Wood as if it is they who are the criminals? How can the Home Office not be ashamed of its abhorrent practice of indefinite detention, when we have heard how this may cause psychological harm and at the very least distress? We cannot abide by this.

The demands made by the protestors are ones that I – and “all people of conscience”- should stand behind, as part of a movement peacefully pressing for change. I #HungerForFreedom alongside the detainees of Yarl’s Wood as I continue my fast, aware of the clock ticking down. Soon I will be breaking my fast. Please share the list of the Hunger Striker’s demands, printed in full below, so my fellow women in Yarl’s Wood can soon break theirs together.

The Hunger Strikers’ Demands

After an initial 3 day hunger strike where the Home Office refused to acknowledge the hunger strike, it is clear that they are not listening to us. On Monday 26/02/18, we will cease to participate in detention, we will not eat, use their facilities or work for them.

The detainees are thus staging an all out strike to protest the Home Office’s continued immoral practices. Our demands are for a fair system and an end to the hostile environment policy towards people with legitimate reasons to remain in the U.K.

  • We want an end to indefinite detention and a return to the original plan of the 28 day limit.
  • We want the Home Office to respect Article 8.
  • We want the Home Office to respect the European Convention of Human Rights regarding refugees and asylum seekers.
  • We want the Home Office to respect due process and stop deporting people before their cases are decided or appeals are heard.
  • We want due processes before we are imprisoned on immigration matters.
  • We want a fair bail process and the Home Office to end the process of selective evidence disclosure to the immigration tribunal courts and instead disclosure of all evidence to ensure a fair judgement is reached.
  • We want adequate healthcare and especially the mental health nurse to stop operating as an extension of the Home Office asking people such questions as, “did you know you were going to stay in the UK when you entered?”
  • We want the Home Office to stop detaining the vulnerable people, that is victims of rape, that is torture, all forms of torture, trafficking, forced labour, the disabled, the mentally ill and so on.
  • We want amnesty for all people who have lived in the UK for more than 10 years and an end to the exiling of those who came as children and are culturally British.
  • We want an end to the Home Office’s of employing detainees to do menial work for £1 per hour, it prays on the vulnerable and forces them to participate in their own detention.
  • We want an end to charter flights and the snatching of people from their beds in the night and herding them like animals.

We want to stress that there are as many demands as there are detainees, everyone in detention is unfairly treated, and all we want is a fair process.