Reporting back from the recent demonstration at Yarl’s Wood Immigration detention centre

By Lucy


There’s nothing like meeting real people – not ‘detainees’ ‘asylum seekers’ ‘refugees’ or ‘immigrants’ – but living, breathing, talking, impassioned real life people, to make the suffering of those detained in this country hit home in all its absurdity and shame.

Bruk is a young woman who had recently been released from Yarls Wood detention centre when she joined us on a demo outside the centre on Saturday 25th April 2015. She is 19 years old, with mobile phone semi-permanently attached to her ear, long dark hair, big smile and made up eyes full of emotion. She came here at age 17, to escape racist attacks in Kyrgyzstan. She greeted us with warmth although she knew nothing of us.

When we arrived at Yarl’s Wood, around 30 of us on a 2.5 hour coach from central London, we first tramped through a couple of fields to a spot chosen by the excellent people at Movement for Justice, where we could see through the high fence to some of the bedroom windows at the centre, roughly 200metres away.

Microphones out, speakers plugged in, banners unravelled – there was no fussing about and we were straight into chanting at the top of our voices.

“Detention centres – shut them down” “Yarl’s Wood – shut it down”

“Asylum seekers have the right, here to stay, here to fight”

“No human is illegal”

“So-so-solidarité. Avec Avec les sans-papiers” (solidarity with those who have no papers)

We also sang two different songs, accompanied by drumming, which changed the tempo to an atmosphere more hopeful and aspirational, alongside the dominant anger of the chants.

20150502_145741 20150502_150551The aim was to offer energy and hope to support the powerful protests (including hunger strikes) being led by the women imprisoned inside.

The women detained at Yarl’s Wood could be seen very quickly waving out of the window and heard calling out. We stopped at one point to listen to them and Bruk took the microphone to shout back to them. She called their names – her friends – and told them she hadn’t forgotten them and we were here to fight for their release.

She said “I was with you in there, now I am out here. You will soon be out here too. We’re going to shut it down.” she said these things with such power in her voice, such determination. Their cries out to us were barely audible but I was overcome with emotion. The sound of their friend’s voice, the chanting and singing from the group, was undeniably a powerful bringer of hope and strength for them. One woman waved a piece of paper out of the window in time to our chants, for several hours – the whole time we were there.


The passion and energy of the group, many of whom had been detained previously themselves, was incredibly humbling. Somehow I felt a fraud being there with my extremely privileged life experiences, opportunities and – crucially – my British passport. I have never been a patriot, or felt deserving of all the privileges that come with being white British and middle class, but to see the struggle at first hand that was faced by others made me feel ashamed to be part of a system that can inflict such suffering upon people at their most vulnerable hour.

Since her release, Bruk has been shipped up north to a flat far away from anyone she knows and she was clearly struggling. Our politics and our media have tried again and again to turn us against each other, scape-goating people, spreading fear of who they are and what they represent.

But the simple truth is, once we speak and see and understand each other, we don’t want to cause suffering and harm to others. We don’t want to ignore or be responsible for it.

I hope that My Heart Sings will continue to be in solidarity with Movement for Justice and people like Bruk who have not committed any crime, to be locked up for and treated like second class citizens. Too many people do not know the truth about these centres, run by private profit-making companies yet paid for by the taxes of all those working in this country.

If everyone had a chance to meet Bruk in the circumstances that I did that day, things would be so different.

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