By Aurora, Raquel and Shilpa

Isolation is one of the worst things those suffering from injustice can face. This is exactly what the protest organised by Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary managed to break down last Saturday 11th April 2015 at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres. A group of women from My Heart Sings were able to be there in solidarity with those who are at the frontline of the fight to shut down all immigration detention centres and free all migrants from criminalisation, violence and abuse and prosecution.

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The protest was vibrant and energised. There was strength and diversity of people (with some coming from as far afield as Newcastle and Glasgow) and so much noise! Everyone chipped in. A sound system and the Rhythms of Resistance samba band helped to focus the noise-making. But it was the combination of everyone’s efforts, with their voices and passion, the spontaneous use of pans and pots, and the singing, that made reaching those inside possible. They responded with equal passion and strength and a series of call and response ex-changes between the protesters and the detainees started:

“What do we want?” “- Freedom!”

“When do we want it?” “- Now!”

“Detention centres?” “- Shut them down!”

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Many of those who had themselves been unlawfully locked up spontaneously took the microphone to tell us about their struggles inside. We heard accounts of endless abuse and separation from loved ones. Some had landed on British soil with tourist or student visas issued by the British authorities in their home country only to arrive in Britain and to be arbitrarily detained, their attempts to reason and plead with the guards falling on deaf ears. Others were confined to isolation rooms for refusing to stay quiet and for demanding justice and dignity. But above all, we were inspired by their courage and determination not to give up their fight until all those who remain inside can be free again.

Music has long been part of struggles for justice and freedom (also here and here). Playing beats, chanting, dancing and singing not only bring us together and make us feel stronger, but are a powerful vehicle to release and express our feelings, hopes and convictions. Last Saturday, it meant those inside and outside the detention centre were able to communicate directly, momentarily softening the walls that separate freedom from oppression. We hope that this moment was a powerful boost for everyone involved in the struggle. The message was also carried to detainees from other detention centres through the use of mobile phones. It felt as if for a moment everyone could feel each other’s presence, together.

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My Heart Sings women were invited to get everyone singing “Something Inside so Strong”, at a point halfway through the demo. The final verse ‘we’re gonna do it anyway… we’re gonna do it ANYWAY!’ rose to a crescendo with more and more people joining in impromptu, the lyrics serving as a powerful vehicle to urge detainees to stay strong, a reminder that they are not alone. We also gave out sweets and inspiring quotes to help keep up energy.

Movement for Justice brings together detainees, ex-detainees and other allies to build powerful moments like this and to keep the pressure up on relevant authorities day to day. They are a small organisation and punch way above their weight. We’re grateful to them for the coordinating and planning work they do for such an important struggle.

This movement is building strength. Everyone involved has something inside so strong. Now is the time to support and do what we can do end detention and ensure freedom and dignity for all migrants.

  • The recent Channel 4 documentary about the abuse and violence directed at women held in Yarls Wood is here.
  • Corporate Watch’s investigations into conditions at Yarls Wood are reported here
  • To get more information about protests and other solidarity actions you can take, you can sign up to Movement for Justice’s mailing list by emailing mfj@ueaa.net
  • You can donate to help fund future demonstrations here – or in cash at a Tuesday night My Heart Sings women’s circle
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