A photo report from the Yarl’s Wood hunger strike solidarity demonstration in Manchester, 8 March 2018.
International Women’s Day 2018 saw women across the world down tools and stop work – whether productive or reproductive labour – for the International Women’s Strike. Around 5 million women in Spain went on strike and ground transport across Barcelona to a halt, showing the power that women workers have to disrupt the usual functioning of capitalism if they organise collectively.
Simultaneously, a hunger strike is taking place in the women’s immigration removal centre (IRC) at Yarl’s Wood, with detainees striking against their detention and the inhumane and abusive conditions in which they are held. All over the country today, people attended demonstrations in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Detainees’ tireless activism and these solidarity protests are a crucial corrective to institutional silence about the violence of detention centres. It is always worth reiterating that detainees in Yarl’s Wood have committed no crime. In many cases, they are fleeing war, poverty and oppression in which the British state has been complicit, or for which it is directly responsible.
In Manchester, I attended the solidarity demonstration with Yarl’s Wood strikers called at 24 hours notice by a range of migrant and refugee solidarity organisations. Between 150 and 200 people turned up despite the cold weather to show support, including members of rs21, representatives from a wide range of local and national political groups and charities, and several former detainees of Yarl’s Wood. Speeches were angry and impassioned, informing the crowd of the prison-like conditions in which detainees are kept, the lack of privacy they have to deal with from guards and staff, and the dehumanising processes by which they are detained in the first place.
Many organisations brought their banners to show organisational support, including human rights organisation RAPAR, Unite Community, Safety4Sisters and the Greater Manchester Law Centre.
Safety4Sisters is a Manchester-based grassroots organisation that support vulnerable migrant women experiencing gender-based violence who cannot access safe accommodation or welfare support.
A speaker from RAPAR gave a convincing speech encouraging local groups to organise together against nearby detention centres including Pennine House near Manchester airport, which receives less attention than Yarl’s Wood but still plays a key role in the deportation of migrants.
Protesters were directed to detention.org.uk, where you can sign up for updates on protests and read news on campaigns and changes to immigration law.
The speakers and demonstrators at the protest were diverse, reflecting the demographics of the city of Manchester as a whole. Part of the power of demonstrations like this is the way they form new collectives from groups who would usually feel separated from one another by age, religion, cultural background or the habits of everyday life. At these protests, we can begin to bridge the divisions between us that usually get in the way of organising against migration injustice and border controls.
This demonstration felt reinvigorating, and I left eager to become more involved in local campaigns against immigration detention. Resistance seems to be building over time, but I came away from the protest wondering how we can escalate our campaigns to make deporting migrants harder than ever for the government. There is another demonstration outside Yarl’s Wood on 24 March where you can show direct support to Yarl’s Wood detainees and build energy around ‘no borders’ campaigns. However, perhaps now is also the time to strengthen the campaigns at different detention centres across the UK to increase participation from the local communities in each place. Let’s show the government that there is no easy way out of the Geneva Convention.