Yarl's Wood Hunger Strike Ends, but the Protest Continues

We heard last month that the hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood was to end, but that the strike itself will continue.  The demands and testimonies of those taking part in the strike have very effectively highlighted the fundamental issues with the system of detention used in the UK.  To detain a person indefinitely, with no idea of when they will be released, and to prioritise ‘immigration factors’ over evidence of significant vulnerabilities in decisions to detain fosters a situation where people sadly are driven to extreme measures, denying themselves sustenance to protest their situation and the system as a whole.  All of this takes place in a context where the detention of so many individuals doesn’t even serve its putative purpose, as many people are actually released back into the UK after a period of detention.

This seems a moment to reflect on the rising tide of a movement towards detention reform.  The strikers and those protesting alongside them very effectively drew attention to the injustices of immigration detention.  In the weeks since the strike began, we have seen significant media coverage as we as parliamentary questions, debates and meanwhile a commitment from Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott to introducing a time limit on the length of time someone can be held in immigration detention.

The demands of the strikers amplified many of the issues campaigners and NGOs in the sector have been pushing for– including a 28 day time limit.  This is absolutely a moment for organisations and individuals to take part in this growing movement in whichever way they feel able.  In the last few years, calls for an end to the system of detention as we know it have come from a range of sources.  We are seeing parliamentarians across the political spectrum calling for change on this.  Stephen Shaw’s review into the detention of vulnerable people made thorough and far reaching recommendations.  The parliamentary inquiry concluded that the UK detains far too many people for too long.  It is increasingly difficult for the UK government to fail to acknowledge that detention is not a proportionate means of achieving its stated purpose.  The process of detention is damaging and ineffective and there are genuine alternatives which do not involve indefinite incarceration in prison like conditions.  Our member group, Detention Action, have piloted a project on alternatives to detention , which has shown the way in which cases can be managed in the community at a much lower cost to the public purse.

This year, Stephen Shaw will publish his second review into the detention of vulnerable people in the UK.  It will be critically important that all of those advocating for change pull together to hold the government to account to reform this unjust system in the light of his recommendations and broader calls for change.  If you are someone who is new to this issue, or just isn’t sure where to get started in helping to change things for the better then we’ve included some actions you can take below.

What can I do?

1. Write to your MP.

2. Connect to groups and organisations already campaigning and lobbying on this issue:

While the unjust system of detention continues, an incredibly important step you can take is to consider becoming a volunteer visitor.  Visitors are a vital lifeline to those held in detention, providing practical and emotional support and reducing the sense of profound isolation felt as a result of people being detained, often hundreds of miles from friends, families and existing support networks.  Yarl’s Wood, for example, is the main centre that holds women, and so those detained there are likely very far from friends and family.  Our film, Hidden Stories gives a clear insight into the difference you can make.  The parallel role of visitors is to shine a light on the realities of detention and to make sure that people who are detained are aware of what options are available to them, (for example: advice on  obtaining vital legal support that might lead to their release).  AVID represents a network of visitors groups who visit in every centre in the UK and in some prisons.  Through working with our groups and the evidence which they gather on issues faced in the system of detention, we advocate for change in the system. The simple act of reaching out and extending the hand of friendship to someone who finds themselves in this situation can have a far reaching impact both for that person, and for the system as a whole.

To find your nearest visitor group or to find out more about becoming a volunteer visitor, contact AVID or check out our website.

 

Publication date: 
Wednesday, April 4, 2018