STOP PRESS: TWENTY ONE WOMEN RELEASED – HUNGER STRIKE SUSPENDED

The hunger strike of over 40 women in Yarl’s Wood IRC which started on Monday night in protest at eight women being taken from detention and forced onto a charter flight back to Nigeria, has been suspended.

Four women (and one woman’s partner) DID NOT FLY.  But shamefully the Home Office deported two women with severe walking disabilities in wheelchairs

Speaking to Black Women’s Rape Action Project which with the All African Women’s Group has been providing daily support to the hunger strikers, Mercy, one of the women said:

“We are suspending the hunger strike but will continue to protest and speak out. . . the pressure has not stopped –  another charter flight is being planned to remove our Latina sisters from tomorrow . . . the Home Office tell us nothing they just come for us in the night . . . they have many ways to torture us . . . the system is wrecking our health. . . they are trying to break us down and isolate from our support networks and lawyer . . .   We know people are with us and we thank everyone for their tremendous support. Every message helps us to keep our spirits up.”

Since the strike began national and international messages of support have poured in including from Maru Mora Villalpando, North West Detention Center Resistance and the Latino advocacy organisation a grassroots undocumented led movement in Washington State, USA that works to end the detention of immigrants and stop all deportations.

People will have seen the migrant caravan which has arrived at the Mexican/US border. But what is never mentioned is the US responsibility for destabilising countries – for example it backed a coup in Honduras against elected President Manuel Zelaya and the resulting persecution, poverty and violence forced people to flee their homes.

As ever women – the primary carers for children and loved ones — bear the brunt of unjust immigration policies.  Over 70% of women who contact us from Yarl’s Wood are victims of rape and other violence.  We support women’s demands to

  • Close all detention centres and release people so we can pursue our right to remain
  • Stop all charter flights – like the Windrush generation, many people are illegally deported when they still have ongoing cases
  • We demand to know what has happened to our disabled sisters and all who were deported on Tuesday night.  If five came back, maybe none should have been on the flight!

For more information or to interview women please call on 07456 525 227 or email us.

Black Women’s Rape Action Project 020 7482 2496  @bwrap1

1 December 2018

Women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood – “Release us and close this place down.”

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Over 40 women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre have gone on hunger strike protesting against a charter flight (Tues 27 Nov) that will take traumatised women back to Nigeria.  Women from many different countries including, Bolivia, China, Ghana, Malawi, Mauritius, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Zambia, have come together to take this action.

A case currently in court of people (known as the Stansted 15) who blocked a charter flight from taking off in 28 March 2017, has brought to light the terrible brutality of these pre-booked flights. People are scooped up, sometimes regardless of the status of their legal case, and forced onto planes to fill seats.

One of the women in the All African Women’s Group, a self-help group of women asylum seekers and refugees, was on the flight that was stopped by the Stansted 15 last March. She says:

I’ve lived in Britain for almost 30 years and have indefinite leave to remain – yet I was taken from my home to Yarl’s Wood and put on a flight within six days despite my lawyer’s protests to the Home Office – I was so thankful to the young people for stopping this flight, they saved mine and other people’s lives.”

Women in Yarl’s Wood are also protesting appalling conditions inside[1],[2]. A dossier[3] by Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and Women Against Rape documented a decade of rape and sexual abuse by guards, much of which was covered up by Serco, the multi-national company which was granted a £70 million contract to run the centre. Christine Case died there in 2014 due to lack of medical care. [4]

Fidelia from Bolivia spoke to BWRAP, which is co-ordinating support for the hunger strikers, saying that she is severely distressed at being detained.

I came to the UK for safety as my life was threatened by drug gangs after I spoke out. I’ve been in the UK for over 11 years. I’m a cancer survivor and I need to see a specialist but all I’ve been given is paracetamol! I’ve been held here for seven months for no reason.”

Another woman commented:
We haven’t had the chance to have a proper legal process. The Home Office has been refusing evidence and documents and want to send us back without even looking at our cases. Being here is mentally disturbing – everyone is damaged, physically and emotionally.”

The chief inspector of prisons condemned Yarl’s Wood as ‘a place of national concern’.

Women inside Yarl’s Wood are demanding: an end to charter flights, the closure of detention centres, the reinstatement of legal aid for immigration cases, an end to mothers being separated from their children by detention and for rape and sexual abuse to be recognised as torture and therefore grounds for asylum.

Women are available for interviews – please call Cristel on 07456 525227

[1] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-06-20/40860

[2]  Channel 4’s undercover documentary reveals racist, sexist and violent attitudes by some guards https://www.ein.org.uk/news/channel-4-news-investigation-raises-new-concerns-over-yarls-wood-immigration-removal-centre

[3] Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration & Removal Centre http://www.womenagainstrape.net/sites/default/files/dossier_rape_in_yarls_woodfinaljuly15.pdf

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/30/yarls-wood-immigration-centre-detainee-dies

 

Submission to Home Affairs Committee Immigration Detention Inquiry

Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) was founded in 1991. Women Against Rape (WAR) was founded in 1976. Together the two organisations have worked closely with women in detention, particularly in Yarl’s Wood IRC, over many years documenting the traumatic impact of rape and other violence on women’s asylum and immigration cases and helping women win justice and safety. BWRAP and WAR have been the primary support and vehicle by which women detainees have been able to publicise their complaints about the treatment and conditions inside detention.

In 2005 BWRAP and WAR contributed to “A Bleak House in Our Times: An Investigation into Women’s Rights Violations in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre”, which found that over 70% of women inside were victims of rape or other sexual violence prior to being detained. In 2015 the two organisations published “Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, documenting incidents of abuse of women detainees by guards over a decade.

CONDITIONS IN DETENTION AND TREATMENT BY GUARDS

•      Conditions in detention are harsh. Survivors or rape and other violence who are traumatised, suffer particularly from the isolation and abuse of detention. We have seen some groups say that detention serves no purpose. We disagree. Based on what women describe to us we have no doubt that a primary aim of detention is to inflict harm onto people with the purpose of instilling fear in them and others; that is a form of domestic terrorism.

•      Women’s complaints include the torment and injustice of indefinite detention, being separated from children and other family and friends, violence from guards, being denied much-needed health care,  inadequate, inedible food and having their asylum claims sabotaged by guards. In some cases, a self-help guide by Legal Action for Women, which we send to every woman that contacts us, has been confiscated and was only returned after protests.

•      Violence during enforced deportations continues. We work closely with the All African Women’s Group, and one of their members was recently deported. She was strapped across her chest into the seat and had two guards, one on each side holding her down. She suffers from extremely high blood pressure and she was trying to call out and signal that she was in terrible distress. Eventually, an air steward intervened. She arrived in her country of origin weak and traumatised and later described to us by phone that nearly died.  The 24 March audio recording of a man in distress during a deportation confirms that violence from guards is common.

HUNGER STRIKE

•      In February 2018, women and men detainees in Yarl’s Wood went on hunger strike raising demands which we list below. We urge the Home Affairs Committee to act on these demands.

•      Bail applications to be speeded up:  Legally they should only take 3-5 days to come to court. Delays of up to a month are common.

•      Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and more.

•      End indefinite detention so that no-one stays inside for longer than 28 days.

•      End Charter flights. These are inhumane because women get no prior notifications and no time to make arrangements with family members.

•      No more re-detention. No-one should be re-detained if you are complying with the law.

•      Stop separating families. Some women inside are married or have British partners and children outside.

•      No detention of people who came to the UK as children. They should not be punished for their parents’ immigration histories.

•      The beds need to be changed. Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed and they are the most uncomfortable beds.

•      LGBT+ people’s sexuality to be believed. It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult.

•      Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre. Only some rooms have them, and people have got very ill in places where they can’t call for help.

•      Access to proper healthcare. Women with serious conditions have been left for days without treatment.

•      Nutritious food.

•      Release people with outstanding asylum and immigration applications.

The hunger striker’s statement describes conditions inside as “torture”:

At any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal have their privacy taken away because officers come in without warning. You don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later.”

•      None of the serious issues which hunger strikers are raising over and over again have been addressed or investigated with any sense of urgency.

RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE.

•      BWRAP and WAR’s 2015 Dossier Rape and Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre documented serious abuse by guards that Serco, the company that continues to run Yarl’s Wood, had either ignored or actively covered up. The situation we documented has not changed. Yarl’s Wood remains open and Serco remains in charge. Shamefully in 2014 the government renewed its contract to run Yarl’s Wood.

•      Our Dossier contained complaints from current and former detainees, collected from hundreds received between 2005 and 2015 including:

•      A rape survivor from Uganda reported a male guard entering her room when she was semi-naked, causing her to be re-traumatised.

•      Several women reported that strip searching and suicide watch made them feel humiliated: “Male guards are present when women are strip searched.” “If you are put on suicide watch the guards watch you when you go to the toilet, they come into your room when you are sleeping. I woke up and a guard was standing over me shining a light in my face. I was very scared.”

•      A pregnant woman reported a guard repeatedly propositioning her for sex and witnessed the same happening to other women: “He flirted with me. I was scared, fragile and pregnant. The guards double date the women. Some women believe that a guard has their best interests at heart but they are easily taken in because they have no other option to get help. Guards give the impression that they have the power to get women released.”

•      Some women reported that guards preyed on their vulnerability and desperation to abuse them. “If you have to open your legs you will. You think that is the only way that you are able to speak to your family. You have to give in.”

FALSE CLAIMS THAT CONDITIONS IN DETENTION HAVE IMPROVED

•      In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee (20 March 2018) Serco claimed that conditions inside Yarl’s Wood had improved. The Serco representatives cited evidence given before them from the organisation Women for Refugee Women that women inside Yarl’s Wood were no longer complaining about the conditions but only about the process:

We have got better over the last two to three years and the debate among the NGOs is now less about Serco running a place that is cruel and inhumane to saying that conditions are “good” in the Centre and that the main complaints about are the process that people are in.”

•      We strongly disagree with these claims. The hunger strike and list of demands from women inside cited above confirm that women are still suffering serious injustices and abuse.

“ADULTS AT RISK” POLICY

•      The new “Adults at Risk” policy issued in September 2016 was meant to address the public outcry about victims or rape and other torture suffering further trauma as a result of detention in the UK.  But the policy was almost unanimously criticised as a step backwards.

•      Women for Refugee Women (WFRW) were the only organisation to publicly welcome the policy on the grounds that it appeared to concede to some of their proposals on detention. Other prestigious organisations providing legal and other assistance to people in detention called for “an urgent review before the policy was implemented” on the grounds that the new policy put vulnerable people at more risk of detention. It defined “torture” in a more limited way (excluding victims of domestic violence and violence by “non state agents”).

•      This change was clearly sexist in that women are more likely to have suffered domestic violence and/or have the torture and other violence they suffered assessed as “non political”. It also gave the Home Office the power to prioritise ‘any immigration control factors’ over a person’s vulnerability. We immediately saw a change in that more rape and domestic violence victims were detained or found it harder to get released.

•      One women who contacted Women Against Rape from Yarl’s Wood was refused bail even though she reported to medical staff that she was suffering nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD because Yarl’s Wood reminded her of being held in detention in Uganda (where she suffered multiple gang rape by soldiers).  Women Against Rape’s independent expert evidence about her experiences was dismissed and instead assertions made by medical staff that detention wasn’t having a negative impact were relied on to keep her in detention.

•      As the Committee will know the “Adults at Risk” policy was in October 2017 ruled unlawful.  We are calling for it to be scrapped altogether.

DEPORTATION IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO DETENTION

•      We note that there is a push in some quarters for the alternative to detention to be an increase in so-called voluntary returns. The Home Office is spending over £30 million, including on funding voluntary organisations and charities, to manipulate and force asylum seekers and refugees to ‘volunteer’ to be deported. There is widespread and growing opposition to this.  Whatever recommendations the Committee makes it cannot be acceptable for detention to be reduced by fast tracking people out of the UK regardless of the risks they may face on return.

DEMANDS

·         We support the demands of the hunger strikers listed above and we urge the Home Affairs Committee to press for their implementation.

·         We take our lead from women asylum seekers who are demanding an end to detention and deportation.

We work closely with the All African Women’s Group, a 100 strong group of women asylum seekers. In a recent statement they commented:

“We all have the right to be here in the UK. African and other Third World people have contributed over centuries to the wealth in the UK. We have suffered enough through imperial conquest, slave trades, proxy wars, Western backed dictatorships, rape and other torture…and through long treacherous journeys getting to the UK. We demand the right to asylum, safety and protection.”

Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape
26 April 2018

 

Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Rape & Sexual Abuse in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre  

Our report chronicles a regime of predatory sexual abuse (including racist sexual abuse) since it opened and began accepting women and families in 2002.  It brings together the many allegations that have been reported to us, with other reports that have appeared in the media.  Many of the reports come from All African Women’s Group members some of whom have been centrally involved in protests including successive hunger strikes .