In the past five years or so we have witnessed the containment of migrants and refugees. Those who are known for travelling miles to find a new life free from war, sexual orientation persecution, gender liberation and so on, are suddenly fixed in a specific spot of stagnation. Unable to move, unable to fight, unable to continue their journey thanks to the material, legal and metaphorical barriers which surround them. Take Yarlswood for example. Yarlswood is a women’s detention centre located in Bedfordshire. It is titled as an Immigration Removal Centre and has the sole purpose of detaining refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. It is where many females are being held, either before being sent back to the country in which they fled, or being given immigration clearance to remain in the country.
To the naked eye this establishment of incarceration reeks misery. Its colours are wilting, ranging from the dirty cream housing unit to the dark musty green barriers which surround the overall area. The spiralled barbed wire appears as a warning. Yet does it serve as a form of protection for the women inside? Or does it serve as a threat? Is there something we shouldn’t know? As a detention centre, Yarlswood is renowned for its distinct lack of care and safe guarding strategies for its residents, and has been exposed through reports, video footage and eye witness accounts as an establishment which is rife with maltreatment towards it’s inmates. Yarlswood gives little care to the residents physical and mental health, and employs guards who patrol the centre with extremely racist and sexist attitudes towards the female detainees. Women are being harassed by guards and are at risk of sexual/physical violence. The building enclosing these women is bland and dull but has sharp edges and angular architecture. There are no curves no exciting turns for your eyes to follow. Just drowsy colours with sharp edges.
Yet if you look a little closer, dotted around the dark musty green barrier containing the housing unit, you will see large cloth signs attached which read such things as “Set Her Free” “No Human is Illegal” and “Don’t Worry Women, We Hear You!”. These cloth signs of solidarity and empathy with these women, elevate the entire ambiance of the building and site. The sharp edges and drowsy colours suddenly become less a signifier of containment but rather a signifier of empathy, love, solidarity and the power of woman.
The containment is no longer silent. These women are no longer alone. These boundaries are not unbreakable.