On 13 May, the RCG across Britain supported a day of action against the racist imprisonment and deportation of migrants. Supporters from London and Nottingham along with Focus E15 campaigners joined the demonstration organised by Movement for Justice outside Yarl's Wood Immigration Detention Centre in Bedford, where over 90% of the detainees are women. Meanwhile local demonstrations were organised by RCG branches in Manchester and Newcastle. The day of action against Britain's racist system of laws targeting refugees and other migrants also highlighted the fact that neither Jeremy Corbyn or any other Labour politician is fighting for their rights – promising hundreds of more border guards instead. We salute the women leading the fight on the inside of Britain's immigration prisons and call for building the anti-racist movement on the streets.
Over 500 people were present at the height of the Yarl's Wood demonstration with banners, placards and whistles and horns, shouting and chanting and waving so that the detainees could see us. The women prisoners waved and shouted out of slightly opened windows and some had flags and written messages. Moving speeches were made by former detainees who spoke of the inhumane conditions, the struggle that included hunger strikes to stop the detention of children, on violence and sexual harrassment. These speakers make it clear to the detainees that we will not give up the struggle on the outside and their words were very powerful. The organisers managed to let the crowd hear a detainee on the phone; she demanded her immediate freedom and expressed the horror of her incarceration. Movement for Justice speakers emphasised the racist environment whipped up by Brexit.
Meanwhile in Manchester RCG supporters, alongside members of Manchester MiSol, Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAS) and City4Sanctuary, came together at Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens as part of the national day of action to close Yarl's Wood and end detention. As the sun shone brightly in the North West that afternoon, speakers took to the open mic to talk about their experiences. Interspersed with passionate songs and chants for freedom, dignity and respect, speakers expressed their solidarity towards women facing deportation and highlighted the obscene conditions and treatment that detainees at Yarl's Wood face at the hands of the British state. FRFI supporters pointed out Britain's role in continuing to create – in Theresa May's own words – a 'hostile environment' for migrants, through last year's Immigration Act, which sees immigration checks becoming a routine part of everyday life - and which every Labour MP, including Jeremy Corbyn, abstained on when it was voted through in Parliament.
In addition, Palestine activists were also out in Manchester that day to commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians by British-backed Zionist forces in 1948. The plight of Palestinian refugees is recognised widely as the largest and longest-lasting in the world, with British imperialism complicit as Israel denies the right of return.
Both demonstrations shared the open mic and the two causes were united to highlight the link that all of these struggles have in common – the continued fight against imperialist war, occupation and racism. In Newcastle, the Migration and Justice Forum, joined by FRFI supporters from the North East, Glasgow and Edinburgh, organised a speak-out against racism, immigration prisons and deportations, in solidarity with the Yarl's Wood protest. All RCG interventions called for continued struggle.
The treatment of refugees and migrants in Britain is the brutal side effect of a capitalist system in crisis, and racism will be used by which ever party is voted in to try to steer the ship. Labour is no better than the Tories. When Labour came to power in 1997, there was one dedicated immigration prison; by the time it left office, there were 12 Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), as well as a network of Short-Term Holding Facilities at airports and reporting centres. Between 1997 and 2010, in its drive to render migration subservient to the needs of capitalism, the Labour government introduced more legislation than any administration before or since (FRFI 247 October November 2015, Nicki Jameson):
• The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 removed benefits from asylum seekers and created the National Asylum Service which dispersed asylum seekers around the country and limited the benefits they could receive.
• The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 introduced an English test and citizenship exam for immigrants and measures against ‘sham marriages’.
• The Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 reduced avenues for appeal, made it a criminal offence to destroy travel documents and cut off support to ‘failed asylum seekers’.
• The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 brought in points-based work visa system, limited the right of appeal for anyone refused a visa and introduced on-the-spot fines of £2,000, payable by employers for each employee without legal status.
• The UK Borders Act 2007 introduced automatic deportation for foreign nationals imprisoned for more than one year, gave immigration officers police-like powers, and brought in biometric ID cards for non-EU immigrants.
Theresa May has a ruthless track record for the Tories, boasting as home secretary that she would make life tougher for illegal immigrants and now as prime minister her government is doing just that without any real parliamentary opposition. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! campaigns against all British immigration controls and opposes all detentions and deportations and supports all those demonstrating to close detention centres down immediately. We call on all anti-racists to join us in the fight for justice.