On the morning of a mass deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana (31/1/17), forcibly removing up to 100 people from the UK, a solidarity demonstration took place outside the twin detention centres of Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, next to Heathrow Airport. A banner bearing a phone number was displayed, and people detained inside the centres were able to lend their voices to the protest, and to be put in touch with practical and legal support.
Many spoke about their situation and conditions inside, including one calling from Harmondsworth: “The way they are treating us is very bad, we have mental health problems, we don’t get our medication, they don’t want people outside to know. […] We don’t have windows to breath air.”
Another person said: “I heard about the protest. I’m so happy. […] Just keep doing it. When they see you doing it continuously they’ll listen. It’s not once off. If I’m out I’d join you.”
More of the statements can be read on detainedvoices.com
With banners, coloured smoke, pots and pans, megaphones, raised voices and loud banging against the detention centres’ prison fences, the crowd made its presence known to people inside both centres. Resistance is widespread inside the UK’s detention and deportation systems. People detained have often taken action on the day of deportation flights to prevent themselves and each other from being removed. Where this has proved impossible they have refused to go quietly.
The crowd’s determination to amplify those cries of refusal was manifested in the slogans chanted — with queer, anarcha-feminist and No Borders messages voiced. This also reflected the make-up of the participants, who were grounded in struggles against various aspects of the ‘gendered nightmare’ — particularly the British state, whose current quisling attitude to the Trump regime is no departure from its daily perpetuation of racialised and gendered violence. Comrades struggling against the expansion of Heathrow Airport also enthusiastically took part.
Police were not forewarned about the demonstration, but before long security were on the scene to push people around and shout orders and accusations. After some time cops came in sufficient numbers to ‘kettle’ the entire crowd. Police lines, accompanied by loudly barking dogs, advanced on the crowd and made some snatches in spite of the solidity and defensive efforts of the demonstrators. Under dubious pretences (Section 1, PACE 1984; Section 50, Police Reform Act 2002) individuals were searched by police, including officers from the TSG, and compelled to supply personal details under threat of arrest. Face coverings were forcibly removed in front of police body cameras. There were three arrests: two were released without charge, but one comrade faces two charges of assault which will be heard in April.
The efforts of those who arranged and took phone calls from people detained, made transcriptions, cop-watched, offered legal advice, and provided de-briefing and arrested support, should not go unmentioned.
Radical care, when oriented towards autonomy and action, will bring down walls, borders and cages, whether they are built by the liberal ‘welfare’ state or its fascist alter-ego!