The one-day strategy conference, organised by Barbed Wire Britain (BWB), an Oxford based network advocating an end to refugee and migrant detention, was held on 14 October at London's Human Rights Action Centre (Amnesty International UK). The event was well attended, and morning plenary session heard activists speak strongly on recent successes, and lessons learned from the ongoing campaigns.
Topical areas included lessons learnt from detainees' struggles,the children in detention campaign, and the Action against Detention campaign. The publishing of the second volume of VOICES II by BWB, a booklet containing detainees' chronicles of continued torture and persecution, was highlighted; the Manchester Initiatives were presented with vigour, and the detainees' rights initiative, including the right to mental health, were advocated alongside Medical Justice, the right to appropriate medical treatment for migrants and refugees in immigration detention. Afternoon workshop sessions that focused on select subject matter, gave more space to tactics and for devising the specifics of an action plan. Among other topics, the workshops deliberated on building support from interest groups such as trades unions and some professional organisations.
One workshop consulted on how to effectively use direct action in the campaign for change. Another discussed methods of changing the current law and policy that governs immigration detention. Given the negative view portrayed by some sections of the national media, a fourth workshop dealt with making an impact on the media with the campaign.
Mindful of the UK Human Rights Act of 2001 and the European Convention on Human Rights from which it descends, BWB pursues an objective attitude towards the implementation of human rights in this country. The detention of refugees and migrants violates a substantial number of those rights, and the best way to end this is to stop the detention system altogether.
Based on this fundamental principle, and in addition to the intent to reach out to more people and change both attitudes and the law, the thrust of the conference focused on establishing a clearly coordinated strategy for the national campaign; this would be derived from shared experiences and unsurpassed practice.
From this objective, it was possible for the conference to devise an action plan for the future. To better achieve this, a national committee was elected to coordinate those plans and communicate with participants. The conference made it clear that momentum had been gained by immigration detainees' actions, by the newly established London Against Detention (LAD), the prevailing campaign on medical issues, and various activities in Manchester, Scotland and Oxford, as well as other initiatives including parliamentary action.
Leading by example
The impelling cause for conference participants has been the ongoing treatment of detainees held in various removals, reception and/or holding centres, amounting to gross violation of human rights.
The UK is an established democracy and must not be seen to do exactly what it calls other countries to end. Most of the detainees in the immigration centres in contention have fled from troubled countries, among them Angola, Burma, Iraq, and Zimbabwe, to mention just a few, and where the states disregard human rights. Participating organisations included Bail for Immigration Detainees, Barbed Wire Britain, Campaign to Close Campsfield, London Against Detention, the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns and Students Against Detention.