Monthly Archives: April 2010

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Dear friends,

Many of you wrote posts, linked to campaigns and wrote to your MPs and so on recently about the shoddy way the Digital Economy Bill, or what is now the Digital Economy Act 2010, was being handled. I read your thoughts, watched the video, had a look around on the ORG website, and was interested and impressed to see the depth of feeling and analysis that was going on about the various issues, and agree that it was a pretty bad example of what passes for a democratic process, and that it’s without exception creepy and disturbing for any state to assert or seek greater control over people’s means of communications (I do have reservations about certain things that arose on ‘our’ side of the debate as well, like the repetition of Brown’s claim that ‘the internet is as vital as water and gas’; I do know what he was saying in context but don’t really think that stands up to much scrutiny from a global standpoint, and – taken out of context, as it was when I first saw it – it strikes me as being in questionable taste given that one billion people worldwide are living without access to clean water).

But anyway, what I wanted to say here was, while you are all thinking about human rights (yeah yeah, so I meant to write this earlier, whatever) and also about politics and getting ready to vote and so on, I would like to draw your attention to immigration and the treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK. These are people, please bear in mind, who have come to Britain knowing that it’s a country wealthy enough, democratic enough, and with enough of a tradition of understanding and respect for upholding human rights, that when something like the DEBill is rushed through our parliament, there is an uproar and backlash such as we saw this month.

  • On February 4th 2010, a hunger strike (ongoing at the time of writing) began at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, with over 70 women protesting their poor conditions, separation from their children, poor health and legal provisions and long periods of detainment. They have also demanded better legal representation in their asylum cases, as a report conducted by Legal Action for Women in 2006 found that 57% of women detained at Yarl’s Wood had no one representing them. While officials have claimed that detention is only used as a short-term measure, one of the women on hunger strike has been held for over two years. The response of the Serco staff to the hunger strike has been extremely heavy-handed. Many injuries have been reported and some of the women involved have been transferred to police stations. The women, many of whom are survivors of rape and torture, have reported racist abuse and beatings at the hands of guards, as well as being locked in isolation in a windowless corridor for eight hours without access to water or toilet facilities. Many of the detainees need medication which they have been denied during the protest.
    Serco and the UK Border Agency refused to confirm the number, nationality and status of the hunger strikers.
  • In April 2009, the Children’s Commissioner for England published a report which stated that children held in the detention centre are denied urgent medical treatment, handled violently and left at risk of serious harm. The report detailed how children are transported in caged vans and watched by opposite sex staff as they dress.
  • In March 2010, the Chief Inspector of Prisons published a report which confirmed that a baby had been detained for 100 days at Yarl’s Wood, and that force had been used against children twice in the last year to separate them from their families: “What was particularly troubling was that decisions to detain, and to maintain detention of, children and families did not appear to be fully informed by considerations of the welfare of children, nor could their detention be said to be either exceptional or necessary.”
  • In 2009, Felista Peters, a trainee radiologist, was jailed for 19 months and will be deported on completion of this term. Felista had successfully completed her BSC in radiology at the University of the West of England in Bristol and was days away from graduating when she was arrested. Her ‘crime’ was gaining British citizenship by claiming to have been born in London.
  • In 2002-03, Yurdugal Ay and her four children aged 7 to 14 were held in Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre for over a year, living like prisoners in a single room inside a razor wire surrounded compound, with the children allowed just 2 hours exercise each day. The Ay family eventually gained asylum in Germany. In March 2010, two five-year-old boys and their mother, who had fled from domestic violence in Nigeria in 2006, were taken to Dungavel. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland have “expressed their abhorrence at the practice of detaining young children and have asked the Scottish government to end this brutal and inhumane regime.”
  • Also in March 2010, a family of three people committed suicide at the Red Road flats in Glasgow.
    While Saeed, an Afghan asylum seeker, attended a candlelit vigil for the family, his belongings, including identity papers, were cleared out of his room in YMCA Glasgow and he was told without notice that he could not return to his flat. YMCA staff advised him that his belongings were ‘probably in the bin’.
    Meanwhile, the Home Office challenged a judge’s decision that a mourning couple should not have to exhume the body of their dead baby son and rebury him in Pakistan.
  • In February 2010 (thanks to my dearest dad for pointing this out to me), Gordon Brown issued an apology for Britain’s role in the Child Migrants Program, which shipped thousands of children to former colonies such as Australia and Canada.
    “We are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard, their cries for help not always heeded.”… Mr Brown said the participants in the scheme were “robbed” of their childhood. “The pain of a lost childhood can last a lifetime.”

    The scheme began in 1869 and was ended in the 1960s.
    Gordon Brown was born in 1951, and is apparently fond of making meaningless, hollow gestures.

Support No One Is Illegal and the No Borders Network

Support the Refugee Council, Yarl’s Wood Befrienders and Scottish Detainee Visitors

Write to women inside Yarl’s Wood. Contact the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) at for more information on writing to women who want to receive letters. Help ensure the guards and the government know that these women are not forgotten.

Write to Minister of State Phil Woolas MP: or