Yarl’s Wood

HMIP publishes deportation ‘concerns’ before Pakistan flight

Prison inspector publishes deportation ‘concerns’ ahead of Pakistan flight tonight

PRESS RELEASE from Corporate Watch, 1 October 2013

Movement for Justice protest outside Home Office today

Movement for Justice protest outside Home Office today

The Chief Inspector of Prisons published today a report raising “a number of concerns about the overseas escorts” employed by the Home Office for deportation flights. The stark warning comes as 30 detainees at Yarl’s Wood are on hunger-strike in protest at a mass deportation to Pakistan this evening. Supporters from the ‘Movement for Justice’ (MFJ) are gathered outside the Home Office this afternoon. A spokesperson from the group said that “five of the eight women facing deportation to Pakistan tonight have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment from male officers in Yarl’s Wood. The attempt to deport the witnesses is part of the Home Office’s desperate attempts to cover up the scandal”.

The Inspection took place during the summer at Brook House, an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) outside Gatwick Airport run by G4S. The overseas escorts are provided by Tascor, another private security company who will be taking the Pakistani women from Yarl’s Wood to an undisclosed airport tonight. In a statement that appears to corroborate the MFJ’s concerns, the prison inspector said “If allegations of assault were made by a detainee during removal, which were supported by medical evidence, the Home Office did not delay removal pending a police investigation”. The inspection team “also saw physical and verbal intimidation of a detainee”, describing how “an escort, taller and bigger than him, came close to him and said that if he had to be placed in handcuffs he would need to explain to the receiving authorities why he did not want to return to their country, implying that he would experience rough treatment”.

The Inspector also said “the practice of taking detainees to the airport as standbys continued and it remained inhumane and unacceptable”, a reference to the practice of ‘reserves’ which the Home Affairs Select Committee has called to be stopped.


Prison Inspector quotes taken from para’s 4.32 and 4.34 of http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmipris/immigration-removal-centre-inspections/brook-house/brook-house-2013.pdf

Yarl’s Wood women: “We are not street dogs”

Yarl’s Wood women: “We are not street dogs”

PRESS RELEASE from Corporate Watch

Over 30 women are on hunger strike at the notorious Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire, with half of them facing deportation to Pakistan tomorrow on a specially chartered flight. Corporate Watch takes a look at the deals between London and Islamabad on security, trade and aid, arguing that asylum-seekers are being treated as bargaining chips in these negotiations.

British Home Secretary Theresa May met her Pakistani counter-part last Tuesday and praised him for  “adopting a zero tolerance approach to illegal migration”. Photo: BHC Islamabad

British Home Secretary Theresa May met her Pakistani counter-part last Tuesday and praised him for “adopting a zero tolerance approach to illegal migration”. Photo: BHC Islamabad

The women on hunger strike, many of whom are seeking asylum from gender-based persecution, are detained at Yarl’s Wood – itself the scene of an ongoing investigation into sexual abuse by Serco guards. A statement issued by some of the hunger strikers challenges the legality of “mass deportations”, noting that the women “have not had access to legal aid”, and that there is a “huge waiting list” for lawyers, “due to [a] mass round up” of Pakistani asylum-seekers in preparation for a chartered deportation flight to Pakistan tomorrow, 1 October. Corporate Watch has already conducted extensive legal research into ‘charter flights’, which corroborates many of these women’s claims.

The women’s defiant resistance must be particularly sensitive for the Home Office, because the coalition government had so far got away largely unchallenged with their aggressive increase in deportations to Pakistan which began in November 2011 – it is only now that people’s pain is being heard (read Amina’s story, for example). Pakistani asylum-seekers have become the number one target for the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) secretive charter flights. Since February 2012, the UKBA has hired monthly night-time flights to Pakistan, removing between 50 and 85 people per private plane. It is standard practice for two or three times that number of private security guards to escort the deportees.

This article examines the collusion between the British and Pakistani politicians, who agreed these deportations whilst bargaining over trade, aid and security.

“Unbreakable partnership”

An ominous precursor to this deportation programme can be found in US diplomatic cables, leaked via WikiLeaks. Less than six months before New Labour lost the 2010 general election, the Conservatives’ then Shadow Defence Minister Liam Fox met the US Ambassador to Britain. The pair discussed foreign policy towards the Indian sub-continent: “Turning to India, Fox criticised the Labour government for policies which reinforce the Indian government’s long-held view that HMG’s [Her Majesty’s Government’s] foreign relations on the subcontinent are ‘skewed to Pakistan.’ Fox predicted this would not be a factor under a Conservative government, since the Conservatives are ‘less dependent’ than the Labour Party on votes from the British-Pakistani community.” Clearly then, deporting members of that community would not pose a big problem electorally.

Once in office, Home Secretary Theresa May travelled to Pakistan on 24 October 2010. She met Pakistan’s President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani to discuss “a wide range of issues of mutual concern”. These diplomatic discussions continued with then immigration minister Damian Green and cabinet minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi visiting Pakistan between 19 and 23 February 2011. They met with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who “stated his support for the return of illegal migrants by the UK.”[1]

Prime Minister David Cameron made his first official visit to Pakistan, flanked by Joint Intelligence Committee chiefs, on 5 April 2011 to launch an ‘Enhanced Strategic Dialogue’ involving annual meetings between the country’s leaders and bi-annual talks between foreign ministers. Cameron announced £650 million in “education aid” for Pakistan and set “a target of increasing bilateral trade in goods and services to £2.5 billion a year by 2015.”[2]

It was against this shift in diplomatic relations that the UK’s first deportation charter flight to Pakistan took place on 24 November 2011. The flight returned 23 men and two women. Theresa May arrived in Pakistan on the same day and held a press conference with the Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik, in which she stressed that bilateral ties were “stronger than ever”.

The Tory’s attempt to close the door on migration from Pakistan has coincided with a push for more British investment in Pakistan’s economy, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office called an “unbreakable partnership”. A press release from February 2012 said that the “UK Trade Minister Lord Green’s recent visit had highlighted the opportunities in retail, energy and mining sectors”.

Only last week, Home Secretary Theresa May visited Pakistan again to “advocate further co-operation between the UK and Pakistan in our efforts to tackle the shared threats posed by terrorism, narcotics trafficking and illegal migration” in her meeting with the new Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. According to the Dawn newspaper, Theresa May “welcomed the commitment that Interior Minister Nisar and the government of Pakistan have shown to adopting a zero tolerance approach to illegal migration”. It would seem that Pakistan’s access to British aid and investment is partly conditional on accepting deportations from the UK, as well as co-operation on counter-terrorism initiatives.

To follow UK diplomacy in Pakistan, keep an eye on www.flickr.com/photos/ukinpakistan/sets/


[1] British High Commission in Islamabad, Press Release, 23 February 2011.

[2] Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Press Release, 05 April 2011.

Serco celebrate Nigerian Independence Day with Mass Deportation

Serco celebrate Nigerian Independence Day with Mass Deportation

[Phil Miller, Stop Deportations Blog, 1st October 2012]

Prison guards at Yarl’s Wood have given detainees gift bags to celebrate today’s 52nd anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from Britain. Tomorrow, dozens will face mass deportation to Lagos in UKBA’s ‘Operation Majestic’.

Nigerian women detained at the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Bedford report that Serco, the private contractors, presented them with gift bags in celebration of Nigerian Independence Day. With cruel irony, Serco are participating in a mass deportation of Nigerian detainees from Yarl’s Wood to Lagos tomorrow (Tuesday 2nd October). Serco’s twisted gesture comes after a month of resistance inside the detention centre. Detainees had attempted a co-ordinated hunger strike to demand “an end to the racist and abusive system of detaining people who have committed no crime other than seek a life free from torture, persecution, abuse and poverty”. Serco allegedly responded by breaking up meetings and intimidating leaders.

Instead of giving presents with one hand and suppression with the other, Serco should take today to reflect on their position at Yarl’s Wood. No doubt the detainees know that Independence in Africa required decades of anti-colonial struggle in the face of brutal repression. A catalyst for Nigerian Independence was the 1949 Iva Valley Massacre. Police fired on striking workers at the Iva Valley coal mine in Enugu, killing 25 and injuring 51. Owei Lakemfa explains how “contrary to the popular myth that Nigeria attained its independence on a platter of gold, events like those in Iva Valley showed that our forebears fought for independence with many losing their livelihood, liberty and lives. No exploiter concedes power by persuasion or repenting of his sins; pressure and power must be applied.

A monument to anti-colonial resistance: the 1949 Enugu Miners Strike

Mass deportations from London to Lagos occur every 6 weeks. The UKBA use specially chartered flights with 2 security guards for every deportee, a process which is code-named ‘Operation Majestic’. In 2011, there were 11 flights expelling 492 Nigerian migrants. The Nigerian government is complicit in the degrading treatment of their citizens abroad. The UKBA pay staff from the Nigerian High Commission £65 each time they question detainees about their nationality and issue emergency traveling documents as required for a deportation. In a Freedom of Information request conducted by the author, the Home Office refused to disclose further details about this scheme, claiming it is not in the public interest because “providing details of the requested information would be likely to discourage the High Commission from co-operating with UKBA in the future”.

After 52 years of so-called independence from British rule, ‘Operation Majestic’ is just one example of the neo-colonial relationship between London and Lagos. Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company, was granted exploration concessions in the Niger Delta by colonial administrators in 1937 and never left. The energy giant has profited handsomely from oil exports totaling more than $600 billion since 1960. However, the majority of the population live on less than $2 a day. Inhabitants of the Niger Delta have long accused Shell of polluting their environment and not sharing the oil revenue. British companies and state officials have systematically suppressed local demands for a more equitable share of Nigeria’s natural resources. Flag sovereignty was tolerated, resource nationalism was not. In 1967 Biafrans declared the eastern part of Nigeria to be an Independent State. Whitehall secretly armed the federal military government to crush Biafran self-determination. According to Mark Curtis, “the priorities for London were maintaining the unity of Nigeria for geo-political interests and protecting British oil interests”. The 3 year conflict claimed an estimated 3 million lives.

The struggle continues throughout the oil producing regions. An NGO, Platform, reported that:

“Shell was forced to stop oil production in Ogoni in 1993, when the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, mobilised 300,000 people in a peaceful protest for environmental and social justice. Shell’s response was to encourage and assist the Nigerian military in crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations. On 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were hanged by the Nigerian military government after a flawed trial that was condemned as ‘judicial murder’.”

The failure of non-violent resistance marked a dawn of armed struggle in the Niger Delta. The Nigerian authorities have responded by militarising the region in a bid to wipe out militants. Under New Labour, Britian supplied £150m worth of arms to the Nigerian government and began the mass deportation of Nigerian migrants.

Critics have compared the deportation charter flights to slave ships, in reference to the Atlantic Triangle between West Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. It is true that Britain continues to send arms and investment to Nigeria, while Bonny Light Crude flows from the Delta to North America like the Palm Oil that preceded it. And so many people born among this tremendous mineral wealth are shackled, exploited and herded around the globe by the white man like their ancestors were before them.

Yarl’s Wood echos H-Block and Attica

Yarl’s Wood echos H-Block and Attica

[Phil Miller, Stop Deportations Blog, 10th September 2012]

Here is a leaked doucment from Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC).
It shows how Serco, the private contractor, pay detainees £1 per hour for cleaning work.

Several women detained at Yarl’s Wood IRC have now organised themselves into a “Movement for Justice Group” and issued a significant statement, which includes 8 demands.

Yarl’s Wood, September 2012:

“Led by a group of lesbian women in detention, the Yarls Wood Movement for Justice group has now grown to include many more women both lesbian and straight; all are determined to fight for their freedom and the freedom of all women in detention; an end to the racist and abusive system of detaining people who have committed no crime other than seek a life free from torture, persecution, abuse and poverty and the freedom to study, live, work and be exactly who they are.

Together the Yarls Wood Movement for Justice Group has voted on a set of demands for immediate improvement in the conditions of detention (cleaning work that only pays 50p an hour, blocks on the internet and lack of printing facilities) and the overarching goal of freedom for all and an end to detention.

1. Respect for our human rights – Release us now
2. No more Fast Track
3. Unblock the internet & allow internet access to our petition link and printing of petition materials
4. Pay us at least the minimum wage for the work we do in detention
5. No more copy & paste of case decisions – we need fair trial
6. No more charter flights
7. End deportation – End detention
8. We need freedom – legal status for us all in the UK

The entire immigration system is racist, homophobic, sexist and rotten to the core. The collective organisation of detainees in detention combined with a militant and determined fight in all of our communities across the UK can be the death knell of this poisonous system that has robbed from us so many of our sisters, brothers, neigbour’s, cousins, fathers, mothers, workmates and friends. This pernicious effect has been highlighted dramatically with the threatened deportation of almost 3000 students from London Met University – the time to fight is now; student and non student, detained and not detained, citizen and non-citizen, International student and UK student – we must stand together for a new Britain, a better Britain: diverse, multiracial, integrated and equal”.

Movement for Justice (MFJ) already have groups in universities and colleges. Their members gathered outside the Home Office last week to protest the situation facing international students at London Metropolitan University.  MFJ say the group in Yarl’s Wood is the first one they have successfully organised inside an Immigration Removal Centre. Although this is not the first time that immigration detainees have issued demands, previous attempts have been more isolated from support groups beyond the wire and tended to focus only on the issue of asylum.

Therefore this is a tentative step forward for MFJ, especially considering the serious risk of repression for detainees who are politically active. The UK Border Agency tend to transfer ‘troublemakers’ to other detention centres or prisons to break up protests, if they are unable to just deport those involved. The network of MFJ groups outside of detention has most likely provided the women inside Yarl’s Wood with the confidence to speak out even when detained. MFJ are also significant because they consciously link the struggle of asylum-seekers with a wider political program.

“Uniting the new immigrant and asylum seekers communities, most of whom are young, with the best and most progressive elements of Britain’s established black, Asian, Irish and Muslim communities and white working class, middle class and poor, in a single movement bold enough to fight for equal rights and opportunities for everyone; we can create a new Britain.”

The Blanket Men in H-Block

The women’s 8 demands show the methods used by the British State to criminalise people who seek political asylum: indefinite detention, a fast-tracked legal process and collective expulsions by charter flight to name just a few. The Establishment’s strategy is to associate asylum-seekers with criminality, in order to delegitimise their lawful demands for international protection as set out in the Geneva Convention of 1967.

Criminalisation has been used before by the British Establishment to repress dissidents. Their policy of criminalisation in the North of Ireland from 1976 denied Prisoner of War status to Irish Republicans detained during the Troubles. These prisoners sought to restore their political status as set out in the Geneva Convention of 1929 by making 5 simple demands:

  1. The right not to wear a prison uniform;
  2. The right not to do prison work;
  3. The right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
  4. The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
  5. Full restoration of remission lost through the protest.

These prisoners spent five years with just a blanket wrapped around their naked bodies rather than be clothed like a convicted criminal. By 1981 the ‘blanket men’ had become an iconic symbol of resistance to British rule and a catalyst for the Irish Republican movement.

In the same year that Her Majesty’s Prison Maze (aka. “the H-Blocks”) was built in the North of Ireland in anticipation of Criminalisation, the British Government passed the Immigration Act 1971. This legislation began the administrative detention of people denied entry to the UK. Four decades on, there are now 15 immigration removal sites which can hold more than 3000 detainees. These immigration detention facilities have been almost exclusively built in England and are run by private companies like G4S. Critics, like Clare Sambrook and Corporate Watch, argue this profit motive is what has fueled the growth of Immigration Removal Centres.

Attica Prison Uprising, 1971

The prison-industrial complex was a recognised phenomena even in 1971. Black prisoners in New York warned in their 1971 Attica Liberation Faction Manifesto of Demands that “their labour power is being exploited in order for the state to increase its economic power and to continue to expand its correctional industries (which are million-dollar complexes)”. Faduma Hassan comments that:

“One of the most interesting aspects of the manifesto for today is the demands regarding the conditions of the prisoners as workers…the eleventh demand clearly points out the need for the institutions that will use the labour of the prisoners to ‘be made to conform with the state and federal minimum wage laws’. Of course, prison labour today, whether in the US or the UK, is not paid remotely at the minimum wage.”


The confidence of detainees in Yarl’s Wood to speak out against their injustices and link them with wider social struggles may be a defining moment in how society understands the criminalisation of asylum-seekers. There is a clear role to be played by groups on the outside in amplifying their demands and building a broad base of support for their resistance.