On 10 March, Merseyside activists organised a protest outside the UK Border Agency in Liverpool to show solidarity with the women who were then on hunger strike at Yarls Wood detention centre near Bedford and to demand the closing of the detention centres, an end to deportations and the scrapping of immigration controls.
The picket was supported by Merseyside Coalition Against Racism and Fascism, No One is Illegal, and Liverpool Students Against Rascism and Fascism. The News from Nowhere bookshop, Unite union branch 6/522 and activists involved in Wirral Against the Cuts supported the event.
Refugees who have no right to remain in the UK have to come every week to “sign on” at the Border Agency. The office also deals with work, study, visiting permits, applications for asylum and appeals.
We talked to people queuing up outside. This is some of the things they said:
”I’ve been working here for nine years paying taxes but I have no rights. There is plenty of room inside, but they make us queue outside, regardless of the weather, to make us feel bad.’
“Inside all the chairs are screwed to the floor and there are signs up in the toilets telling us not to urinate on the floors. They think we’re animals.”
Sometimes people are lifted by the immigration police while they’re waiting. Many said they have spent time in the detention centres and that the conditions were terrible. The constant threat of dawn raids and how the children would be frightened means living in constant fear.
Some of the people who were waiting to sign joined the protest. Others were just asking quietly what could we do to change things.
We also spoke to representatives of PCS — who had been on strike — about the protest. We said that we supported the dispute and that we weren’t protesting against low paid staff. The local reps agreed with the demands to close the detention centres and supported the aims of the protest. One rep said we need more staff so that they can process asylum claims more “quickly and fairly” — that is not the right approach. These are issues which we need to discuss further in the unions. The unions should make it clear they are opposed to the deportation of asylum seekers and migrant workers, and say the staff working in immigration should be redeployed elsewhere in the civil service.
People fleeing persecution and torture — instead of getting help — are treated like criminals. Around 70% of the women in detention centres are rape survivors, and often have physical and mental health problems, yet interviews with the women in Yarls Wood show they don’t have access to the medical care they need.
In Liverpool we plan to follow up the protest by organising a meeting to co-ordinate campaigns, and plan monthly protests outside the UK Border Agency.