Parliament Square overflowed with banners, placards, chants and speeches on Monday 15th June 350 people rallied in the British Parliament's front garden to demand the closure of Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre as over and all detention centres.
The demonstration took place as part of a wave of action against detention, including the 1000 strong demonstration outside Yarl's Wood on 6th June, and a report published by the Independent Monitoring Board concluding that pregnant and vulnerable women were 'wrongly detained' in Yarl's Wood.
The protest and speak out, organised by the All African Women's Group and Black Women's Rape Action Project saw over 30 speakers take the microphone to demand the closure of Yarl's Wood IRC. Many described and condemned the racist and sexist abuse detainees suffer from detention centre guards, as well as the inhumane mechanics of the detention system: separating mothers from their children and keeping people locked up indefinitely, without due process and at threat of deportation to places where their lives could be at risk.
Speakers came from all walks of life, giving a range of perspectives- from detainees to whistleblowers to politicians- as to why detention centres, and Yarl's Wood in particular, must be shut down. The crowd heard via phone from women currently detained in Yarl's Wood, their voices filling the centre of London through the PA system.
A nurse from Yarl’s Wood who blew the whistle about medical neglect spoke forcefully corroborating women’s accounts of abuse by guards. Homophobic persecution and discrimination from the UK government was raised by Queer Strike and campaigner Peter Tatchell. Representatives from other groups included London Black Revolutionaries, Movement for Justice, Anti Raids Network, Catholic Workers, Hope Project, Women for Refugee Women, Corporate Watch, Women Against Rape, Payday Men's Network and Women of Colour in the Global Women's Strike. Green party Leader Natalie Bennett and eight MPs crossed the road from parliament to speak - from the SNP Roger Mullin, Stuart MacDonald, Mhairi Black, Natalie McGarry, Kirsten Oswald and from Labour Diane Abbot, Jeremy Corbyn - who had just received his nomination for the Labour Party leadership contest - John McDonnell and Kate Osamor.
The police tried to shut down the protest but people argued to allow Selma James from the Global Women’s Strike to make a closing speech. She said: "What asylum seekers are doing, those of us who are in detention and those of us who have won our way out, we are giving leadership to the growing movement for justice of which we all are part . . . to the anti-racist movement , to make clear that we are not going to be segregated by race and punished for our colour."
After two hours of lively protest, the crowd marched to Number 10 Downing Street where a delegation attempted to submit a dossier calling for Yarl's Woods closure. The Report, produced by Black Women's Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape, details a decade of sexist and racist abuse at the centre, condoned and then covered up by Serco, the corporation that runs the removal centre. It conclusively demands its closure, appealing to female MPs in particular to work on the issue. Though police refused the document at the entrance to Downing Street, the dossier had already been sent to all MPs. Protesters not only caused lively disruption in the politician's front garden during Monday lunch, but also caused a stir on social media and in the press:
The struggle to end detention and destitution continues . . .