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5 ways to support women in immigration detention this International Women’s Day

UK immigration detention centres fly in the face of basic human rights. Quakers in Britain are working to bring them to an end.

Women demonstrating outside Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire. Photo: Wasi Daniju/Flickr
Women demonstrating outside Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire. Photo: Wasi Daniju/Flickr

Earlier this year I celebrated the centenary of women's right to vote in the UK. I remembered, though, that not all UK women had that right even after 1918. Worse, the state continues to ignore the human rights of many women in the UK today.

Women and people who have fled countries where their rights are at risk because of exploitation, climate change, inequality and war; those who are being forcibly removed from their homes, families and lives by the state; and even those who have lived in the UK for years. Quakers in Britain have joined together with All Women Count and other human rights organisations to demand that these women are guaranteed safety, dignity and liberty.

Supporting the Yarl's Wood hunger strikers

As I write, 120 women and non-binary people in Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre are taking part in a hunger strike. On 21 February they stopped eating, and will not start again until their demands are addressed. They demand shorter bail request periods, amnesty for those who have lived in the UK for ten years or more, an end to indefinite detention, an end to deportation charter flights, and an end to the separation of families. They demand to be free. The full list of demands are on the Detained Voices website.

Their statement exposes the cruelty of an immigration system that relies on hostility and discrimination. People are assaulted by staff. Accounts from inside detention centres reveal racism and sexual violence. Though people are detained without being tried before a judge in court, immigration detention centres in the UK operate as prisons, where detainees are forced to work for £1 an hour to buy goods like food or clothes from the centres.

Standing against oppression

What happens in immigration detention is done in our name. In the light of all this, Quakers uphold the people in Yarl's Wood, and everyone in those centres. Your courage and determination is moving. Our Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto is, in part, a response to the government's systematic discrimination against Quakers in the past. Today we turn that experience into solidarity, and stand against all oppression and suffering. We declare once again our determination to work for the end of immigration detention everywhere, including here in Britain.

So, on 8 March, International Women's Day, we stand with All Women Count and will continue to campaign to push for political change. We seek to ensure that human rights are applied to all national policies and international agreements on migration. This includes the right to work, to learn, to shelter, to medical care, and to security.

Our three demands

  • SAFETY: Women should be protected from violence when they are on the move and in the UK. Women without citizenship who experience or are at risk of violence should have the same rights as all women to report crimes, access support and seek justice.
  • DIGNITY: Women on the move and once they are in the UK should have access to healthcare, education, employment and housing. At the moment it is challenging for migrant women to access these things, leaving many destitute and at risk of exploitation and homelessness.
  • LIBERTY: The UK government currently locks up over 4,000 asylum-seeking and migrant women every year. Immigration detention is traumatic and unnecessary and needs to end.

Five things you can do

  1. Lobby your MP with All Women Count and refugee and migrant women at Thursday's Westminster event. Register for the Westminster event.
  2. Write to your MP asking them to meet you at the lobby. Template letter available at www.allwomencount.org.
  3. Read this helpful 'things you can do' list over at the SOAS Detainee Support site.
  4. Share our Sanctuary Everywhere Manifesto (PDF).
  5. Join other Quakers in the solidarity 24-hour freedom fast on International Women's Day.

Something you do at any point is become a Sanctuary Meeting or a Sanctuary Action Group! Email me at sanctuary@quaker.org.uk to learn more.

Learn more about our Sanctuary Meeting initiative