A young girl made national headlines for throwing a letter out of Manston migrant processing centre to a reporter. The girl, who is being held in immigration detention at the centre in Kent, threw the message in a bottle over the fence in an act of desperation. People seeking asylum, including those being held in immigration detention, have a history of using their voices to demonstrate their right to liberty.
The letter described the conditions as a “prison” and claimed there were pregnant women and sick detainees at the facility. The letter, which was addressed to “journalists, organisations, everyone”, claimed that 50 families had been held at Manston for more than 30 days.
Witnesses at Manston have said they have seen security guards ushering people inside when journalists are seen near the fence of the facility. It is reported that the young girl ran past security to throw the bottle. A heartbreaking line in the letter said: “We wanna talk to you but they don’t even let us go outside.”
People seeking asylum have a voice
It’s the most recent case of people seeking asylum demonstrating their rights while in detention. Recent examples include a movement from 2012 which was organised by the women in Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire. Together the women formed a ‘Movement for Justice’ group and resisted deportations and held numerous protests and occupations within the centre. Their actions were given considerable support by demonstrations on the outside. By 2016 the women were receiving support on the outside by people in their thousands. Prior to that, hunger strikes were common and were established on mass. In 2014 and in 2015, mass hunger strikes spread through most of the UK’s detention centres.
Solidarity from outsiders is a source of strength
The website Detained Voices was set up in 2015 to allow these stories to be shared. Presenting first-hand accounts of people living in immigration detention, it has become one of the only forums to publish their words unedited, making it a vital source of solidarity. On the outside, numerous groups and movements since the 1990s have campaigned for detention closures and reforms, including Freedom from Torture, Asylum Matters, One Strong Voice and Survivors Speak Out.
So far, campaigners have not been able to close detention centres. Since 1993 the Campaign to Close Campsfield has held monthly demonstrations at the Oxfordshire centre. Members say the campaign came close to succeeding in its first few years; it also helped win the acquittal of nine West African prisoners accused of rioting in 1997.
However, they have been successful in keeping some centres closed and preventing new sites to open. In 2017, the Stop Detention Scotland campaign stopped the opening of a new ‘short term holding facility’ at Glasgow airport. Although there was an unintended consequence: the government kept Dungavel, in South Lanarkshire, open instead. One campaigner involved told Corporate Watch:
“We did extensive research, consulted with the councillors who were to make the decision, created petitions and had the public submit hundreds of letters of objection to the planning committee. We went door to door around the community generating local resistance to the proposal and held protests at the council meeting and in Glasgow. The plan was unanimously rejected by the council and the Scottish National Party pledged that there would be no more detention centres in Scotland.”
Corporate Watch has said: “We believe that solidarity campaigns from outside have given considerable strength to people inside, empowering both their personal and collective struggles. We know how much detention managers hate solidarity demos, because they fear how prisoners become fired up by feeling passionate support from without. And there are untold statements from prisoners themselves testifying to the power of solidarity across the walls.”