Seán O’Donavan on local residents donating baby clothes and sharing stories in solidarity with vulnerable people seeking asylum
“The guard at Yarl’s Wood detention centre told me that no one in this country wanted me, and no one cared about me. I look around this room this evening and I know he was wrong.”
Former Yarl’s Wood detainee, Angela was speaking at the first evening of the Spotlight on Asylum Festival and Exhibition at Karamel, Wood Green.
The Festival, running until 21st November, has been organised by PramDepot, which provides baby clothes and other vital equipment to over 400 mothers annually who are in precarious or vulnerable circumstances.
Tottenham resident Karen Whiteread, founder of PramDepot said: “These events will celebrate the women we support. It will also shine a light on the torturous process faced by women and men seeking permission to remain and the appalling conditions within the detention system.”
The first evening, attended by over 90 people and chaired by Shadow Secetary of State for International Development, Kate Osamor MP, heard from BBC and Channel Four journalists involved in undercover investigations at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. The testimonies they gave of women being mistreated, abused and even raped by detention officers was harrowing.
Angela, who now campaigns with the All African Women’s Group told us that detention is a deliberate method of isolating women and men from their families and their community. “We felt degraded, we had lost everything and we felt that we were losing ourselves. We just wanted a chance to live and to work,” she said.
Cristal Amiss of the Black Women’s Rape Action Project said it was the women themselves who were bravely leading the protests using one of the few methods open to people in detention, imprisoned or interned. Some women had started hunger strikes at great risk to their own health.
“Our job is to hear their cries of anguish and anger, and to work together with our friends, neighbours, community and political organisations to magnify their voices so they cannot be ignored and this system cannot continue,” said Cristal.
The Open University’s Dr Victoria Canning asked everyone a simple but powerful question: “Do you think people should be held in a confined space solely on the grounds that they are not a particular nationality or have a particular immigration status? If your answer is ‘no’ to that question, then you must work to close detention centres.”
As I listened, I gazed up at the rows and rows of babygrows pegged to lines suspended from the ceiling. A colourful symbol of the work of PramDepot, each one tiny but vital, preloved and now ready to be passed on, as an act of welcome and friendship. A cotton army of hope, solidarity and resistance.