28 November 2017
By Jade Jackman, filmmaker

This blog was published in partnership with the UK-based, black feminist organisation Imkaan, to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence You can read the original article here.

Film by Jade Jackman

In 2014, I was studying law. Looking back, I don’t think I would have ever really made it as lawyer but I was particularly moved by the legal aid cuts and how legal representation was being taken away from people because they were literally too poor to afford it. So, I decided to volunteer with Women Against Rape and the Black Women’s Rape Action project and there I was first introduced to the realities of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

At the time, my role was to carry out interviews and listen to others outlining the abuse of the women inside by the guards. This eventually became a dossier that documented the patterns of mis-practice inside. Aside from the resilience of the women, one of the most chilling comments that I heard was the line: “we are invisible women”. This vacuum of rights and almost forced disappearance of the women really stuck with me; I still find it difficult to process that it is a routine part of border control that the UK Home Office can lock people up, remove them from their friends and family, and monitor their contact from the rest of the world. This practice happens to people who have lived here for years and perceive the United Kingdom as their home; all of a sudden, immigration control comes for you and you are told that you don’t belong any more.

Detention is a practice that harms everyone but when examined in relation to gender, it seems senselessly malicious. In the abstract, the United Kingdom purports to care about rape and survivors. In fact, the previous foreign minister proposed a commitment to supporting those who had been harmed by rape in warfare. However, it is has been shown in a recent study that many women held in Yarl’s Wood IRC have been sexually abused. Like many of our government’s promises, their ‘commitments’ to ending abuse sound good in abstract, and when the abuse can be blamed on “barbaric” foreign practices that occur in ‘other’ cultures. But, when survivors of gender-based violence come to the United Kingdom, we cannot deny that they are catastrophically let down by the treatment they receive.

As a woman from an immigrant background, the stories of the women who I met inside Yarl’s Wood IRC also resonated personally with me. Many, like my mother and grandmother before me, had been let down by a man they trusted on arrival in the United Kingdom. Unable to speak perfect English, the obstacles and forms clouded their eyes or left them vulnerable to more empty promises of assistance. From there, the stories spiral taking their own turns but held together by a framework that overwhelmingly harms women of colour and women without access to resources. Then, the layers of invisibility come.

Once inside Yarl’s Wood, your connection to the outside world is controlled. If you have a camera phone, it is taken away from you, and your access to the internet is also hugely limited, and monitored. This, alongside the fact that Yarl’s Wood is hidden in the middle of a business park in Bedford, contributed to the woman I spoke with defining herself as ‘invisible’. But, for me as a filmmaker, this state of invisibility extended further. It is also illegal to film inside detention centres making it almost impossible to bring the stories out.

Working within these constraints, I made a film documenting women’s experiences of detention. As opposed to relying on trauma and visual stereotypes to carry the film, I literally had to get creative. The only option left to me was to record phone interviews with the women inside, and then all else had to be constructed around this material. This allowed me to collaborate with a close friend — the exceedingly talented artist/filmmaker Diana Chire — to create the film ‘Calling Home’. Our creativity served to amplify the voices of the women inside helping them to resist the invisibility enforced onto them and visualise people our Government works so hard to hide.

About author

Jade Jackman is a filmmaker and nervous writer based in London.