Yarl’s Wood is a detention centre in Bedfordshire where women fleeing for their lives from oppressive governments and authorities around the world can be detained indefinitely despite committing no crime. Detainees have reported alleged psychological, physical and sexual abuse by Yarl’s Wood staff.
Shutdown Yarl’s Wood campaigners at the first demonstration held in Manchester Piccadilly Gardens on 21st June 2014, told Black Feminists Manchester why they came out to support the campaign.
Aderonke Apata of MiSol and WAST said she was here‘… to demonstrate against Yarl’s Wood, we want to get Yarl’s Wood shut down because it’s not fit for purpose. That’s why Safety for Sisters, WAST and MISOL have rallied around and put together this amazing demonstration, in support of women who have been to Yarl’s Wood before, who are in Yarl’s Wood now and who UKBA are thinking and planning to take into Yarl’s Wood – we want Yarl’s Wood shutdown.’
Aderonke has been a driving force in this campaign, you can read more about her experience as an asylum seeker, detainee of Yarl’s Wood and campaigner in her interview for Black Feminists Manchester.
Rossella of Manchester Feminist Network spoke in solidarity to the 200 strong crowd of supporters, she later told us she is protesting against Yarl’s Wood…’because as a woman and a feminist I find it unacceptable that women are suffering all sorts of violence and are not helped and supported.’
Vicky Marsh of Safety for Sisters Northwest told us she was here ‘…with WAST and MISOL in solidarity protesting about Yarl’s Wood. S4S was set up to try and get some proper services for women fleeing domestic abuse , that had immigration issues or were European and couldn’t get housing benefit and they had been denied access because of their status, so refuges were turning them away and they couldn’t get support.
We decided we need to be here to represent S4S because what’s happening is these very same women that are very vulnerable and open to further exploitation are now actually being locked up like criminals. But not only that, they are facing abuse and further sexual violence actually in the prison. We think that this is unacceptable as when they are free in Manchester and being refused services, it’s the extreme end, so it was important for S4S to have a presence here and recognize how brave it has been for the WAST women to come out and talk about Yarl’s Wood. We are right behind them. Those women who have talked about Yarl’s Wood when they are in the prison, some of them have been deported because of doing so, some have been sent to women’s prisons and some of them are here today with us.
It’s really important to help them have a voice because the next thing the government want to do is stop them getting civil legal aid so they can’t tackle the government about unlawful detention, about sexual abuse that’s going on and about the police not investigating it properly, which has been happening. We have a woman who is in WAST, who has successfully sued SERCO for the abuse, successfully sued the Home Office for wrongful detention and is also suing the police for not investigating the abuse she reported while she was in there. Now these voices are going to get silenced, so it’s important lots of women’s groups get together and fight to get Yarl’s Wood shutdown as soon as possible and all the other detention centres that are doing the same.’
Kat of MiSol stated she was ‘… not just here as an organiser but as someone who wholeheartedly supports the women who have been through Yarl’s Wood been through any detention centre, the women that are in there right now and any other people that are in a detention centre, because it really is a rotten system and Yarl’s Wood is the tip of the iceberg.
I think it’s worse because it’s violence against women and also children are in there. So I’m here out of complete disgust at what the government think is acceptable and how people keep telling us about it and I think it’s really good to have this kind of event to raise awareness, because if people really knew what happens in Yarl’s Wood, how people treat asylum seekers in general, as not part of the community but something less than, they should get angry and close Yarl’s Wood down.’
Throughout the demonstration, organisers from various activist groups joined on stage in solidarity and spoke about the need to end the unfair treatment of asylum seekers and to shut down Yarl’s Wood. Aderonke told us, this was the first of many demonstrations to come, she urges people to support the campaign and keep raising awareness until Yarl’s Wood is finally shut down.