Resisting the ‘Hostile environment’: State violence and the Yarlswood hunger strike.

 

In February, 120 people mainly women detained at Yarlswood immigration detention centre in

Bedfordshire embarked on a 3 day hunger strike that lasted over a month. There was a

staggering lack of interest by the mainstream to cover the strike and expose the inhumane

treatment of detainees at Yarlswood. One Yarlswood detainee puts it rather poignantly,

‘My life is just in limbo, it’s the uncertainty as well. You don’t how long you’ll be locked up,

you don’t when you’re getting out, you don’t know where you’re going, I can’t describe that

feeling. “I feel like I have been kidnapped basically, I don’t know where I am going, I don’t

know what’s going on.” ( Dan Whitehead, Sky news).

Detention: an instrument of state and corporate violence

The Yarlswood hunger strike is a desperate cry for help within a detention estate that treats

detainees not as humans but as ‘merchandise’ by private security outfits who run detention

centres (in the case of Yarlswoon, Serco). Human and civil rights, hardly find accommodation

within the detention estate underpinned by profit- driven corporate governance. Such profit led

detention provision by private security agencies embeds structural violence and

dehumanisation which finds expression in detainee strikes and other forms of resistance. In the

words of a former Morton Hall detainee, ‘detention is very good business, these guys (private

security companies) don’t care about human lives’.

 

Immigration detention centres are state institutions, increasingly, detention has become a

weapon for policing and managing migration by the state. The weaponisation of detention is

integral to the government’s policies designed to create a ‘hostile environment’ mainly but not

exclusively for ‘irregular’ migrants. These policy instruments are designed to act as a deterrent

to more migration into the UK. In 2014, former immigration minister James Brokenshire

summed up the rationale of the policy saying ‘I want to send out a very clear message today to

people on both sides of the Channel – Britain is no soft touch when it comes to illegal

immigration’. (Daily telegraph 06 Sept 2014).

Detention reinforces the government’s mind-set and policy with regard to migration and its

determination to communicate its key message to current and prospective migrants. Such

collusion between state and corporate hostility create an environment in which rights, dignity,

justice are undermined and the voices of detainees are silenced whilst structural violence is routinely embedded. Viewed in this context, the Yarlswood hunger strike is symptomatic of

deliberate systemic collusion to create a hostile environment and epitomises detainee resistance

to such systemic violence. The women’s strike captures a deep yearning for a culture change

in Yarlswood and across the detention estate that recognises and prioritises the dignity, rights,

humanity, equality and justice for detainees. The strike is a desperate appeal for a more human

rights led migration policy.

 

Social action and System Change

The Yarlswood hunger strike is a ‘protest’ against State and corporate violence. The strike

epitomise the detainee ‘voice’ and advocacy for system change. Although locked up in

detention centres, the detainees have not lost their agency to challenge injustice and bring about

system change. However, the sustainability of detainee ‘voice’ is inextricably linked to the

mobilisation of public conscience and social consciousness towards building a movement

against the government’s ‘hostile environment’ led migration policies. The urgency and

relevance of social action and movement building is compelling for the protection of rights,

justice and dignity of mainly but exclusively vulnerable migrants. It is in this context that more

collaboration and coordination across human and civil t rights, social justice, advocacy and grassroots based organisations is critically vital if we must stem the tide of state hostility whilst

nurturing solidarity and increasing integration.

Migrant Action’s work and vision is rooted in social justice, advocacy, migrant rights,

solidarity, integration and system change. As such we will continue to advocate for a non-hostile

environment whereby migrant rights, justice and dignity are safeguarded and whereby

solidarity, human rights and justice and shared humanity constitute core values of social policy

and social discourse.

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