Plan for Yarl’s Wood film script:
- walking around yarl’s wood, types of flowers and plants
- lawscape/how landscape is shaped by the law
- history of the site
- chartered flights
- detention centre as a border zone, interstitial areas, changeable, stretched, malleable, instability
- waiting, control, how power is applied to the bodies of the detainees by placing them inside this ambiguous border zone where laws are suspended
(text in red indicates parts that were removed during editing)
Official access to Yarl’s Wood is made through the Twin Woods business park. MK44 1FD. Anonymous industrial buildings, offices, units to let. Stop signs and barriers. Red and white. Black and white. The entrance is manned and gated. At the front of the complex is a water tower that you would be forgiven for mistaking as a watchtower, or a prison. It looms overhead and puts me on edge.
The perimeter of the estate is marked by a tall chain link fence, topped with barbs. Miles of green wire rise from the grass like an extension of the land. Reinforced. 2.0 . PVC chain link galvanized core. Like the kind we clung to in the playground.
Damaged links in the fence have been crudely repaired. Branches have grown into the fencing: wood swollen and bloated around wire, like a slow, unknowing rebellion – nature’s quiet and gradual reclaiming of space.
Crops grow in the surrounding fields. Space for grazing animals, paddocks. Each rectangle of land is separated by spiky borders; brambles, briar, midland hawthorn… Nearby woodland is scattered with bluebells. These flowers bloom in the spring, so that they receive maximum sunlight before the leaves of the trees above cast them into shade. In Elizabethan times they crushed the bulbs to starch ruffs and collars. Native English.
Looking around, we see the landscape as imagined by the law. From the process of Enclosure that consolidated land ownership, to the right to roam, and the public footpaths laid out across the country.
The physical space of the English countryside and our journeys through it are shaped and controlled by a long history of mapping, demarcating and claiming. The law and landscape are irrevocably intertwined.
Running alongside the perimeter is a public bridleway that leads us past the flat roof rectangles, past imposing towers and decommissioned wind tunnels to the unassuming buildings at the back. Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.
The Twin Woods site started life as part of the Royal Aircraft Establishment Bedford. Between 1946 and 1994 it was used for experimental aircraft development and aerodynamics research. Specially commissioned wind tunnels were used for studying the spinning characteristics of aircraft. Today these are privately owned and used for various purposes including racing and body flight-simulation.
“Wind speeds of up to 180mph support your whole body in mid air, allowing you to really fly! Ever wanted to fly like a bird, like a plane or like superman? Now you can at the Bodyflight wind tunnel.”
Two decades after the last planes were tested at RAE Bedford, detainees are shuttled to their charted flights. Mass deportations that force people back to their beginnings.
The facility windows only open enough to reach out a hand.
The path of the bridleway is unsteady and craggy underfoot, the tracks from people and horses form craters and rivets in the earth that fill with little pools of rain. Reflecting the sky. The move to grey.
I think of the people who use the bridleway, of the journeys they make along the perimeter. A leisurely ride. Who are the people on either side of these fences? How are their lives different? The fields are deserted but for me. I look up to the windows and wonder if anyone sees me. Our lives run parallel to the chain link fence. How many borders separate us?
The no-mans land between fences is a gulf that separates the native and the alien. Spanish bluebells were introduced to England in 1683 and has since hybridized with our natives. The border between citizen and alien is a fiction.
Official access to Yarl’s Wood is made through the exhaustion of asylum appeals.
When we walk the perimeter of Yarl’s Wood we are walking the fine line between laws. Between legalities. And each step falls in rhythm with the passing of time. 14 days. 2 weeks. Maximum detention without charge.
The detention centre is a border zone. A territory whose identity is constantly shaped and reshaped. A space where laws collide, overlap, are tested and contested on a daily basis. Where native and alien meet: their new roles tried on, adjusted, thrown off. Every day the inhabitants of Yarl’s Wood define and redefine the policies that shape the space. Each decision to confine, to restrain, to touch, to resist – stretches the perimeters of the lawscape.
The word ‘detainee’ conjures images of confinement, but it contains a multitude of identities: immigrant? Migrant? Expat? Refugee? Citizen? Alien? Survivor? Person? But in the ambiguous space of the removal centre these terms slip and fold into one another, multitudes are reduced to ‘other’ and ‘threat’. The decision to confine becomes a matter of national rather than personal safety.
Little sight nor sound escapes the walls of the Immigration Removal Centre and whilst the removal process interrupts the physical lives of the people detained, it also interrupts the process of asserting oneself as a political being, as a person who deserves the respect and protection of the law. Caught between citizenships.
This interruption is an isolating tactic that is mirrored in the location of Yarl’s Wood. Many new detainees arrive at night, after spending hours in the backs of vans and in police cells.
To make someone wait is to exert power over them. Indefinite detention.
The landscape is a palimpsest, where every action is inscribed upon it’s surface. What will this place look like a thousand years from now? Fences, walls, concrete…overgrown.
Felled trees overrun with moss.
Breathe in and breathe out.
Too much time and too much history weigh down each branch.
Creative writing on themes of migration/place/belonging/memory
What does it mean to be illegal, a-legal, to be not real, not there, no more, once more, they don’t exist, if we can’t see them they don’t exist. It’s not our problem, someone will intervene. Who’s in charge? Who’s above you? I’m just a cog. I’ll pass you to my supervisor, this goes higher. What does it mean to be illegal?
“Your parents are meant to support you, they’re meant to give you money, it’s their job” he said. I just laughed. He’s a hard worker though, I’ll give him that. Two jobs, pretzel rolls, cinnamon sugar: that’s my favourite. “That’s how we roll.” He is a hard worker, I don’t know how he does it.
What does it mean to be illegal? He worked at the car wash – the one that looks abandoned, is it? She walked past everyday, did their eyes meet? Was it love at first sight? Car wash? No thanks. She said yes. They sighed.
Love at first sighed.
No. He’s not legal, he wasn’t legal. It’s ok now, we can relax. How long have you been together? How did you meet? What side of the bed do you sleep on? This isn’t what we wanted for our daughter. She was so well behaved. What a lying arab. I never thought about that phrase. I didn’t realize how it sounded.
I didn’t realize.
When I was about eight, we were on holiday in Aldeburgh. It was an overcast day but we were on the beach. I was swimming in the sea when a huge wave hit me, sucked me under, and I rolled backwards, pebbles hitting me on the face and my body buckled. It was painful and disorientating. I hid under my dad’s jumper for the rest of the afternoon. I once read an article in a newspaper, penned by a coast guard, who asked why people weren’t more afraid of the ocean – because they should be.
Sometimes when I go to the pool on my own and I’m the only swimmer there, I duck under the water and the sight of the vast empty pool, the tiled lanes disappearing into blue, makes me panic. I’ve never had to swim for my life.
I think lake swimming is my favourite thing in the world. I love the shock of the too-cold water; I love the smell of silt and pond weeds, and the sun burning down. Moving through the water, looking up – only blue. Only blue. “Imagine there’s no countries.”
On long motorway journeys, seemingly frequent in my childhood, I loved spotting tiny islands in the middle of lakes in fields, and imagining swimming out there and setting up camp: Swallows and Amazons style.
The picture shows a child face down on the beach, the waves lapping at his body, leaving a scummy residue. His tiny hands are limp and his little feet nestle neatly together. His red top has ridden up to reveal the curve of his belly, his sallow skin. He could be sleeping. Above him stands an o fficial? A soldier? A policeman?
He wears a uniform with words in another language on his shoulders.
We wear a uniform with words in another language on our shoulders.
We wear a uniform with words.
This room shakes with the force of the washing machine.
This room shakes with the force of the washing machine.
This room shakes with the force of the washing machine.
My body shakes with the force of the washing machine.
We’ve seen the images in the news, in the papers, on our screens. The loaded boats, the mounds of people, the sloppy landing and fevered disembarkment.
But we wont accept it ‘til we see the bodies.
We are white.
We have houses.
We have wifi and Sky and bills to pay.
We have history.
We have culture.
We have The History.
We have The Culture.
We have our health. Well at least he has his health.
We have these streets.
We have our shifts, our clock-in clock-out.
We have timetables and minor delays.
We have literally and absolutely and
We have our high hyperbole.
We have telescopes to send to the lonely old man on the moon.
We have ‘British values’.
We have stun guns and code words.
(We are all gonna die cos I cant remember the code word.)
We have deadlines.
We have the bag charge and the workplace pension.
We have forms and forms and forms and forms.
We have administration fees.
We have previous experience.
We have ##############.
We have sore throats and lemsip.
We have Citalopram.
We have Sertraline.
We have Diazepam, peace be upon him.
And I’m stuck in my head, I’m so tired of this place.
A light outside flickers incessantly so the whole room strobes and 4am rolls in silently and I can’t sleep
and I can’t sleep
and I can’t sleep.
C: //Obviously we’ve invested in a security fence at Calais and now the security fence at Coquelles, where the tunnel entrance is on the French side. The French are sending in an extra 120 police. Teresa May, my home secretary, she had a COBRA meeting to coordinate all this activity. We need to work together very closely with the French, very closely with the companies, but we do need to recognise the source of this problem, which is people crossing the Mediterranean in search of a better life and we’ve got to deal with that problem at its source as well.//
C: //but I speak to President Hollande regularly about this and frankly the cooperation between the French and the British has been good, the whole idea of having our border controls on the French side of the channel, that is actually incredibly important, the fact that we are able to erect these fences, invest in the security work, with the French in partnership: that helps //
C: //look, this is very testing I accept that, because you’ve got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain, because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy it’s an incredible place to live, but we need to protect our borders by working hand in glove with our neighbours the French, and that’s exactly what we’re doing//
R: //Which comes back to the question, are the borders secure at Calais? They’re not are they? People are just getting through//
C: //No, they are secure. Not least because our border controls are actually on the French side of the channel that’s an incredible wuh uh
R://but people still slipping past, this week hundreds
C: //but we have the natural advantage of our sea border. We don’t only use that, we actually re-doubled that as it were, by having border controls so called juxtaposed controls on the French side, that means we can take far more action to stop people getting to our country than many other countries around the world are able to do.//