On Sunday evening, the Magdalen and Wadham JCRs each voted in favour of motions to donate £250 to Movement for Justice (MFJ) to support the organisation’s protest next month at the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. A similar motion was proposed at New College’s JCR meeting, although it was not passed.
The detention centre holds over 350 detainees, overwhelmingly women, who are awaiting either the approval of their asylum applications or deportation.
The centre has faced controversy since opening in 2001, including allegations of human rights abuses. Yarl’s Wood was burnt down during protests by detainees in 2002. In a report last summer, Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, described the centre as “a place of national concern”. According to the report, 15 of the detainees had been held without charge for over six months.
According to the Surround #YarlsWood demonstration’s Facebook event, Movement for Justice ‘‘Will be returning to Yarl’s Wood in force to demand that ALL the women are freed, Yarl’s Wood is SHUT DOWN and ALL detention Centres are closed once and for all!’’
MFJ goes on to describe the protest as ‘‘fighting to win the most basic of demands as human beings.’’ The JCRs’ donations are to be spent by the Movement for Justice on “coaches to the demonstration and advertising for the demonstration’’.
Ella Sackville Adjei, who proposed the Wadham JCR motion, described Yarl’s Wood as ‘‘A truly horrific institution, where people who have committed no crime are forced to endure prison-like conditions’’ and ‘a source of national shame’. Ms Sackville Adjei went on to tell Cherwell, “The money raised will go towards subsidising the Oxford coach, and paying for coaches from elsewhere in the country so that people who otherwise could not afford travel to the demo in Bedfordshire will be able to attend – it is vital that activist spaces are open to all, regardless of financial status, and I think it is really important that institutions with as much spare money as Oxford colleges help to facilitate this.”
Movement for Justice described the JCRs’ decisions as “so exciting”, telling Cherwell, “The donation from Magdalen means so much to us because it means we can continue to make getting ex-detainees and asylum seekers to the demonstrations seats – we want no one to feel they cannot come because of lack of money, these donations help make that happen.”
John Stephens of Magdalen, told Cherwell that at a talk earlier this month by Movement for Justice, students were “shocked by accounts of the conditions in Yarl’s Wood,” which included allegations of “withholding of vital medication and sexual assault by guards”.
In its motion, Magdalen JCR notes, “The demonstration aims to bring together activists, organisers and asylum seekers from across the country to help build a network of campaigners and create links between movements.
“It is also an opportunity for detainees (many of whom are not native English speakers) to contact campaigners and access legal counsel.”
In response to Cherwell‘s request for comment, A Home Office spokesman said, “Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls, helping to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK are returned to their home country if they will not leave voluntarily.
“We take the welfare of our detainees extremely seriously, which is why the Home Secretary commissioned the Stephen Shaw review which was published last month. We are now working on significant reforms in relation to mental health, how those “at risk” are considered and ensuring there is a stronger focus on removal so that people spend the minimum amount of time in detention before they leave the country.”
Serco, the firm responsible for operating Yarl’s Wood, did not respond to Cherwell’s request for comment.