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No Borders please, we're British

No Borders Convergence targets immigration regime.

A six day No Borders Convergence last week (13-18th Feb) saw activists causing a ruckus at various border regime targets around London. The five day event was a heady mix of workshops and actions, and a chance for different groups of people to make links and network.

The week kicked off with three days of discussions and workshops about all things border-related.

The Thursday and Friday were scheduled days of action, but over forty eager activists, unwilling to wait til the end of the week blockaded Harmondsworthand Colnbrook detention centres on Tuesday (14th) Feb.

A tripod was erected outside the gates and eleven people used concrete and locks to cement themselves to the gates, obstructing the entrance to the two centres. It took several hours for police to remove the blockaders, who caused severe delays to a planned charter flight to Ghana, set to forcibly remove an estimated 50-60 people detained inside the prison. The bus with the detainees was unable to leave for several hours and some last minute legal work from lawyers got a number of people who would have been deported - 22 according to The Independent - removed from the flight. However, it's common for replacements to be put on flights when such things happen and the exact number of people on the flight is still unconfirmed.

There were eleven arrests, mostly under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, including 'Serious disruption to the life of the community' although as one activist told SchNEWS "one does have to question exactly whose life, and which community, they are referring to here". Arrestees were held in custody for 36 hours, then taken straight to Uxbridge Magistrates Court, where they were greeted by a round of applause by supporters on entering the courtroom. Their hearing has been adjourned until 8th March at 9:30am. All arrestees were released on bail.

Activists supporting the arrestees were stopped and searched by police before entering the court. Section 1 of PACE was invoked and reasons written on search forms included such gems as 'Female part of a group known to be targeting the court to damage it and aid the escape of those within the court of high concern' and 'Subject approached in company with a female who has a large bag and protest badges.'

Friday (17th) saw a noise demonstration outside Barnardos HQ in Barkingside, North-East London. Barnardos, the cheery children's charity, have been involved in providing 'welfare' at the new 'family removal centre' at Pease Pottage, South of Gatwick. Several people entered the offices in an attempt to get a formal response from the CEO about Barnardo's involvement in child detention. This was refused. The demo continued for around three hours, with a samba band playing on the lawns outside the offices and activists giving out leaflets and talking to workers and passers-by; the majority of whom were highly supportive. Finally three people were granted permission for an interview, provided the others leave. However, Barnardo's quickly changed their tune and had police drag the three out of the building as soon as the others left. Barnardo's staff then left the building by a back exit and the demonstration was called to a close.

The coalition government undertook a typical re-branding exercise in 2010 to sidestep pressure from activist groups and human rights organisations to stop locking up children and families. As part of their 'commitment' to ending child detention, the state opened new 'pre-departure accommodation' to imprison families with children before forcibly deporting them. So a bit like a detention centre then. They also brought in Barnardo's to give the scheme an air of legitimate concern for the well-being of the kids involved. When Barnardo's was criticised for its compliance in the government ploy they hurriedly added a few caveats to the partnership, saying that they would withdraw services if more than 10 percent of the families deported in the first year of the trial went through the centre; if any family stayed at the centre more than once or for longer than a maximum of one week; or if disproportionate force was used with a family en route to or from the centre. Campaigners say that these conditions have been broken on numerous occasions, yet Barnardo's continue to work in the immigration prisons.

The final action of the convergence week was the No Borders Carnival on Saturday (18th). At midday around 200 people had congregated at the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. After listening to speeches, people made their way with banners and a samba band through central London before arriving at Piccadilly Circus at 3pm. There was positive atmosphere with lots of dancing, chanting and singing, and despite five police vans tailing the protesters, there was no official interference in the march.

One activist based in Calais commented on the actions in London and the solidarity demo in France: “These actions are against the violent system of immigration regimes, detention centres and prisons across Europe. The number of centres and border controls incarcerating and deporting people without papers is increasing. While at the same time persecution of people based on where they are from and how much money they have has become normalised and institutionalised. Strengthening borders strengthens systems of segregation and builds bigger and higher walls and barriers between people.”

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Twitter: @SchNEWS