|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.
• 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.
· 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
|Brigitte’s pro-bono legal team at Kingsley Napley have just announced that they will cover the full cost of her daughters air fares!
Brigitte is overwhelmed by the kindness and the generosity, not only of her solicitors, but of everyone who has been moved to make immediate donations. A further £172 has been received so far. These and any further donations will be used to cover additional/inevitable costs incurred by moving from the DRC and settling here in London.
Thank you all for your care and support for Brigitte and her children. We will be back in touch once they are with us!
Black Women’s Rape Action Project.
Brigitte fled the Democratic Republic of Congo having been detained and tortured in prison by the authorities for her own and her family’s involvement in the opposition movement. Once in the UK she spent seven years fighting for the right to stay whilst doing what she could to find her five children who were lost to her.
In 2013, with BWRAP’s help, Brigitte won indefinite leave to remain but was denied the right to automatic family reunion. Later that year, miraculously, she found two of her daughters alive in DRC, but living in terrible conditions. She wanted to bring them to Britain, but couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer. BWRAP was able to secure pro bono representation from Katie Newbury at Kingsley Napley and Rebecca Chapman at 2 Garden Court. Applications for family reunion were made in May 2016, but rejected three months later. None of the evidence so painstakingly gathered was addressed. Statements from her daughters detailing their vulnerability to destitution, the history of the abuse they had suffered after Brigitte fled, and the traumatic impact that ongoing separation had on them, were dismissed and ignored.
Brigitte appealed. BWRAP and Women Against Rape gave witness testimony at her hearing and Brigitte was supported by 19 women from AAWG all crammed into a tiny court. Unlike some judges who dislike public scrutiny, Judge Lingam thanked everyone for attending.
Finally in March 2018, Judge Lingham granted Brigitte the right to family reunion in Britain – a monumental victory. It could never have happened without a mother who refused to give up, a dedicated team of women campaigners and a legal team all ready to put their expertise and their hearts into the struggle together. Brigitte says:
“I’ve watched other mothers like me live for the moment they’re precious children come back. Words cannot express what we feel, but we know that no mother or child anywhere in the world should have to suffer so much to live together.”
To donate, please mark your donation: “Brigitte’s Appeal”
Bank transfer: HSBC Account name: Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Account No: 61635581 Sort Code: 40-04-04
Or via PayPal: Black Women’s Rape Action Project.
More information: Tel 020 7482 2496, email email@example.com
by Cristel Amiss of Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape. Published 17 March 2018 in Morning Star (see morningstar.online.co.uk)
A new report, Rape by Command published by Kaladan Press Network, documents mass violence against women and girls by the Myanmar military, in its 2017 purge of Rohingya people across northern Rakhine State.
We met Pippa Curwen, a human rights defender, who helped publish the research. She has been involved in life-saving work on the Thai-Myanmar (formerly Burma) border for over a decade.
The chief researcher of the report is lawyer Razia Sultana, a former teacher. She interviewed 36 survivors – 24 women and 12 men who had just arrived on the border with Bangladesh having fled for their lives. They described the torture they had suffered and what they had seen inflicted on others – horrific crimes committed by the military during their August 2017 campaign to ethnically cleanse the northern Rakhine state where many Rohingya had lived. Eight were rape survivors.
Sultana is from the region and this is the closest we have to the authentic voices of the Rohingya themselves, uncensored by the interpretations of outside observers or academics.
Sultana had recorded earlier witness evidence of atrocities in 2016. The Background chapter tells how the Myanmar government had refused visas to independent international investigators, instead installing its own “Rakhine Investigative Commission”, which did not report any instances of abuses during the whole 2016 military operations. This impunity gave a green light to atrocities on an even larger scale in 2017.
“Women and girls were raped, mutilated and killed for their very identity as Rohingya. Rape is being used as a weapon of genocide.”
Sultana documents testimony that hundreds of women and girls were gang-raped in front of their loved ones by groups of Myanmar soldiers as their homes were ransacked and destroyed. Often, these rapes were accompanied by other horrific violence using knives, burning and other forms of torture. Women and children were brutally attacked in their homes, while fleeing, and in military camps where they were held prisoner.
She notes that particular acts of mutilation of women’s breasts and genitals, indicate that the violence was the result of a directive, rather than individual soldiers’ actions. Atrocities were authorised by the military and the border police which systematically cleared Rohingya communities from the countryside and towns, razing their homes, leaving only non-Muslim villages intact. They aimed to extinguish the very existence of the Rohingya.
As an immediate precursor to violence targeting women and children, Myanmar troops invaded the villages, rounding up men and boys for arrest, torturing and killing, often using allegations of “terrorism”. This left women and children alone and vulnerable and paved the way for mass rape.
Given the systematic organisation of the military raids, with were co-ordinated by the armed forces from the sea, air and on land, the report concludes that war crimes have been committed. It calls for the military leaders at the highest level to be held responsible.
Myanmar has so far blocked any independent UN fact-finding investigation. This is being used as a pretext for some governments to take no action at all, and to carry on supporting investments with the excuse that they are waiting for an official UN report.
The country’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to mention the Rohingya to the outrage of people around the world who supported her when she was under house arrest. Some experts have avoided acknowledging that this mass rape and murder is genocide.
As anti-rape organisations with over 60 years of combined experience of working with survivors of rape, including historic child and domestic abuse in the UK, we know how hard it is to get justice. Some of us have fled to the UK after suffering rape and torture by military or others in authority. Our collective self-help with survivors, and our attempts to hold their attackers to account, addresses the trauma of rape, of witnessing loved ones killed, and the many barriers to recovery faced by victims of sexual and racist/Islamophobic crimes. These are compounded by losing your home and/or becoming a refugee.
There are now 900,000 Rohingya in the camps of Bangladesh who need our support and action. Rape by Command calls for:
- Holding the military to account for systematic rape and other violence against civilian women and children. No impunity for the Myanmar military!
- A place of safety for all the refugees to settle and rebuild their lives. They must not be forced back to Myanmar. The majority who want ultimately to return must be guaranteed rights and safety.
The Sisters of Rohingya are demanding sanctions against Myanmar, not just military sanctions, and an end to foreign investment. On International Women’s Day, 8 March, we joined a large and lively picket outside Unilever HQ, London, calling for the company to divest from Myanmar.
Unilever is one of the biggest foreign investors in the region, annually investing $667m. It claims to respect the dignity and rights of women and girls, especially in its marketing of Dove products, and has been named “Impact Champion” by UN Women. It’s time it put this into practice by withdrawing from Myanmar instead of enhancing the funds available to the military government.
The Unilever protesters handed in a letter to Chief Executive Paul Polman (who was paid £9.4m in 2015) urging him to divest. The international movement against sexual violence, from Hollywood to #MeToo and Time’sUp, must be extended to the Rohingyas – women, children and men.
Corporations must be forced to put life before profit and to stop funding rape and genocide. We are all sisters and brothers of Rohingya.
Cristel Amiss is a member the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Lisa Longstaff is a member of Women Against Rape.
You can support the campaign by using the hashtags #No Peace #No Dove
For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow @bwrap1; or email email@example.com ; follow @AgainstRape; or visit the Sisters of Rohingya blog sistersofrohingya.wordpress.com. You can see the full report Rape by Command at: www.kaladanpress.org
Please add your signature to the open letter below, which is pressing for urgent changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme for victims of sexual violence.
We have been campaigning together with a national network of survivors of a wide variety of sexual violence, as children and as adults, and we have put together this open letter on what we have found to be the main obstacles to compensation. In the context of #MeToo and Time’s Up movements we can win. More materials and media coverage at: http://againstrape.net/category/campaigns/compensation
We particularly urge survivors’ organisations, ISVAs, law firms, other professionals and any other groups to sign. Or you can sign as an individual. Please ask groups you know to sign.
If your organization or law firm helps or supports survivors to claim or to appeal, we would really like to be in touch and to work with you. Please let us know, so that we can contact you.
Against rape and for compensation and justice,
Rt Hon. David Gauke
Dear David Gauke
We collectively represent the experience and demands of thousands of survivors of rape, domestic violence and sex crimes suffered as children or adults.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is discriminating against victims of sexual crimes – even in some cases where our attacker was sent to prison. Winning justice and compensation is official recognition and a crucial step to recovery. It is particularly important for those whose attacker evaded prosecution – the vast majority of rape and domestic violence survivors.
There are several ways in which the Scheme should be updated. We appeal to your government to urgently change the following rules and practices:
1. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) denies compensation to victims who delayed reporting to the police – Paragraph 23.
2. Victims below 16, the legal age of consent, are denied compensation.
3. Living under the ‘same roof’ with your attacker before October 1979 disqualifies you from receiving compensation – Paragraph 19.
4. Victims of rape who have criminal convictions are denied compensation – Paragraphs 25-27.
5. Time limit – Paragraphs 87-89.
6. Victims have to co-operate with the prosecution as far as reasonably possible – Paragraph 23.
7. There is no legal aid and unrepresented survivors can face hostile and upsetting questioning by CICA lawyers.
Compensation is often the only official acknowledgement of rape we get, given the low conviction rate of 6%. An award can speed recovery, as many women suffer catastrophic mental and physical injuries. Patients struggle to get treatment from the depleted NHS and dwindling therapeutic services – many face years on a waiting list and rationed appointments. In addition, we suffer life changing impacts such as losing a job, eviction, marital breakdown, being unable to cope with children, fear of public transport . . .
The basic award for rape is a mere £11,000, and this does not stretch far. Amounts should be increased, and decisions speeded up. There is a minefield of rules which put people off, as described above. Most don’t even know the Scheme exists or applies to them.
signed so far by the following organisations:
Add your Organisation or law firm by emailing us –
Please return signed to Women Against Rape via email firstname.lastname@example.org
www.againstrape.net Twitter: #AgainstRape Phone: 020 7482 2496
 ‘Hundreds of sexual assault victims refused compensation for minor convictions’ Independent; ‘Rape victims denied compensation for petty convictions’ – Guardian and ‘Hundreds of rape victims denied compensation’ Scottish Herald
|International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017, London
Statement by Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape
We strongly condemn the ethnic cleansing, widespread torture, killings and systematic rape and sexual torture of women and girls by the Myanmar Army, as part of its genocide against the Rohingya people.
A report, Rape by Command, compiled and published by the Kaladan Press Network documents horrific crimes committed against women and girls in 2017 across Rakhine State; in their homes and communities, or while fleeing the murderous army during its purge.
The chief researcher of the report, Razia Sultana, personally interviewed 36 survivors about what they had suffered and witnessed happening to many others. She concluded that “Women and girls were raped, mutilated and killed for their very identity as Rohingya. Rape is being used as a weapon of genocide.”
We are anti-rape organisations with over 60 years of combined experience of working with survivors of rape, including historic child and domestic abuse in the UK. Some of us have fled to the UK after suffering rape and torture by military or others in authority in other countries. We know first-hand the trauma of rape, of witnessing loved ones killed, and of the barriers to justice and recovery faced by victims of sexual crimes, in addition to losing your home and/or becoming a refugee. Women everywhere face disbelief, discrimination and harsh treatment but the movement internationally is enabling survivors to speak out and demand safety and our attackers brought to justice. Right now we are supporting women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre who are on hunger strike exposing their brutal and inhumane treatment.
We echo the main demands in the report:
· Hold the military to account for this systematic rape and other violence against civilian women and children. It is clear from the reports from the region that these crimes are not random but the result of soldiers acting under orders. No impunity for the Myanmar military!
· A place of safety for all the refugees to settle in, they should not be forced back to Myanmar.
We further support the call from Sisters of Rohingya that Unilever divest from Myanmar, to withdraw funds to the military and encourage other corporations to put people’s right to life before profits.
We call on international movements from Hollywood to #Me Too and Time’s Up to put this issue into the spotlight and say: stop corporate funding for; rape and genocide! #No Peace #No Dove
Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX
Read more at https://sistersofrohingya.net/
UNILEVER: disinvest from Myanmar!
Please join us on 8 March, International Women’s Day. We will taking part in the speak out called by the Global Women’s Strike to put the Family Court on Trial (details below).
We have seen a massive rise in calls for help from mothers whose children are being taken into care or even adoption, when they report rape or domestic violence. They are routinely disbelieved or blamed for causing their children “emotional harm” while the perpetrators get away with it. The drive to prioritise fathers’ ‘rights’ overrides all other considerations, with violent fathers being given contact and residence. Children and mothers are being abused and even killed as a result.
Poverty imposed by austerity cuts – 86% of which have targeted women, depriving us of escape routes – is also used to accuse mothers, especially single mothers, of ‘neglect’ and take our children.
Mothers all over the UK are fighting for our rights to care for and protect our children from this child abuse by the state. Please bring your evidence.
Women Against Rape
Facebook event here. Follow us on Twitter @WomenStrike.
STOP PRESS: Emergency Demo Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers
4-5pm, Wed 28 Feb, outside the Home Office, Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF.
Called by Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants: co-hosted with All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Docs Not Cops, End Deportations, Right to Remain, SOAS Detainee Support, The London Latinxs, and others
Update: Yarl’s Wood Hunger Strike . . . for immediate release
“They’re trying to break us down but we’re not about to give in to them or their threats”
“Theresa” currently on hunger strike told us that they are being denied the right to fax statements about their conditions and demands. She said “we are about 20 women and 14 men taking complete hunger strike . . . yesterday our statement was confiscated by an officer called Claire. Today we tried to send faxes of our demands from [the] health care [area] where we are holding a silent protest. After we faxed, 2 officers came following us and tried to take our papers away . . . I refused to give them – tell the director to come pick them from me himself.”
Theresa says that threats have been made by the director Steven Hewer to take “trouble –makers” to prison – “protesters are being called to the Home Office one by one, supposedly to address our demands but instead they are updating people on their individual cases. . . our protest is a peaceful quiet one and we don’t appreciate having the threat of HMP prisons directed at us”.
Over and over again women protesting in Yarl’s Wood have been targeted for punishment– and the same goes for protesters against detention around the world. See our sister Maru who has been targeted for deportation in the US.
From mothers threatened with being deported without their children to rape survivors who haven’t been able to speak about what they suffered in the “hostile environment” in which asylum claims are considered, women in Yarl’s Wood face removal without having had a fair hearing. Sexism, racism and other discrimination result in the Home Office routinely refusing to believe women, flouting its own instructions about how it should treat “Gender Issues in the Asylum Claim”. Legal aid cuts deprive women of legal representation and advice, and vital evidence to pursue appeals, instead judges “rubber stamp” Home Office refusals flouting their own guidance on how they should treat “vulnerable witnesses”. Their cases having been unjustly closed, women face destitution, detention and deportation.
- Shorter bail request periods [quicker bail hearings]
2. Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and above
- End indefinite detention
- End Charter flights
5. No more re-detention
6. End systematic torture in Yarl’s Wood
7. Stop separating families
8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children
9. The beds need to be changed
10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed
11. Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre
12. Give us access to proper healthcare
- Give us proper food to look after our diets
- Release people with outstanding applications
- We want to speak to Alistair Burt MP for the constituency
We also call for:
- An end to detention; immediately release mothers and children, pregnant women, survivors of rape and other torture, people who are mentally or physically sick and other vulnerable people.
- An independent investigation into claims of rape and other sexual abuse against women held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre
- Reinstate legal aid for all asylum and immigration cases to ensure women and men get a chance of a fair hearing against the Home Office’s racism, sexism and determination to deport no matter how unjustly.
- An official investigation into what happens to people who are deported, including those deported from the unlawful Detained Fast Track, so that they can get the help they need.
- No NGO collaboration with, and promotion of, so-called “voluntary” and “family returns”, and any other government processes that depend on injustice, destitution, detention and forced deportations to drive asylum seekers out.
- Close down Yarl’s Wood and detention centres everywhere!
Those in detention have the right to be here. Those of us on hunger strike have the right to be here: count the contribution that African and other third world people have made over hundreds of years to the wealth in the UK.
Some recent press coverage:
100 Immigrant Women Are on Hunger Strike at a Notorious UK Detention Center
Yarl’s Wood female hunger striker facing deportation tomorrow
Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project on Yarl’s Wood hunger strike
|Over 100 women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre began a hunger strike on Wednesday 21 February. The women from Avocet and Dove units along with a few men on the family wing are refusing food and are planning further protests. They have issued a statement with demands which include:
1. Shorter bail request period. Legally bail applications should only take 3-5 days to come to court. Delays of up to a month are common.
2. Amnesty to give legal status to those who have lived in the UK 10 years and more.
3. End indefinite detention so that no-one stays inside for longer than 28 days.
5. No more re-detention. No-one should be re-detained if you are complying with the law.
7. Stop separating families. Some women inside are married or have British partners and children outside.
8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children. They should not be punished for their parents’ immigration histories.
9. 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.
10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed. It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult.
11. 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.
12. Access to proper healthcare. Women with serious conditions have been left for days without treatment.
13. Give us proper, nutritious food.
14. Release people with outstanding applications.
15. We want to speak to Alistair Burt, MP for the constituency.
The 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.”
Ms L who spoke from Yarl’s Wood to Ms Titah from the All African Women’s Group[i] commented:
“Some of us are victims of rape and other torture including human trafficking. Even when we have scars and other physical injuries and suffer trauma we’re told by staff who have no qualifications that there is nothing wrong – all to justify keeping us locked up.
Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape reported that over 70% of women in Yarl’s Wood are rape survivors and documented that women have endured “a regime of predatory sexual abuse” from guards over years. The government’s refusal to investigate and hold those to account has led MPs to describe it as “state sanctioned abuse.”
Ms L continues:
“A lot of medical conditions are going untreated here. We can’t get appointments to see doctors . . . women fall ill with low or high blood pressure but all we’re given is paracetomal – it is very dangerous. Last month one woman was ill for days and ignored until she collapsed. They rushed her to Bedford hospital at 3am and she needed a blood transfusion.
“Detention is mental torture. . . . Some have been there a year. . . . We try for bail but even when we have all the documentation we are turned down and left in limbo. One judge routinely refuses everyone’s applications no matter what. Some of us have paid thousands of pounds to private lawyers – it’s a money making racket”.
Women say they are not going to give up and are planning further action on Monday.
For interviews with women please call: 07456525227
UPDATE: The Supreme Court upheld the women’s claim – a significant victory for all rape survivors!
|Today 21 February, the Supreme Court will give the verdict on a police appeal to overturn a high court decision which protects rape victims. This shameful appeal was backed by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Biased and negligent police investigations are a major reason the conviction rate for reported rape remains a disgraceful 6%. For decades victims of rape have fought for their right to thorough investigations and for the gathering of evidence that could result in the prosecution of their attackers. In the John Warboys case (prosecuted in 2009), police hostility to his victims enabled him to sexually assault over 100 women with impunity. One victim spoke publicly about how the police laughed in her face at her reporting a taxi driver.
In a pathbreaking case in 2014, two of Warboys’ victims used Article 3 of the Human Rights Act to uphold their right to state protection from serious violence (police investigation of crime), and won damages for inhuman and degrading treatment.
Other victims had previously taken similar legal actions. In 2012 Ms X won compensation from the Met after suing the police for breach of policy on the investigation of rape. Ms X worked with WAR for seven years to uncover what went wrong. After an in-depth IPCC investigation which spelled out the most horrendous police incompetence and negligence, she took the case through the civil court using this same Article 3 (and Article 8) and was awarded £15,000. The victim’s mother, who worked tirelessly for justice against the systemic police problems on child rape exposed by her daughter’s case said, “When you walk into a police station to report rape you expect the police to investigate thoroughly. I was devastated when they didn’t, because I’d encouraged my daughter to report against her wishes and felt I had let her down.”
May’s support for this legal appeal gives the lie to her pledges to improve laws protecting women from violence. She also wants to repeal the Human Rights Act, one of the only routes rape survivors have been able to use to hold the police to account, breaking with years of impunity.
May’s blatant hypocrisy is also exposed by her economic policy, slashing women’s escape routes from violence.
Philip Hammond’s budget announcement last year of £30m support for women hides the outrageous financial attacks on women by successive governments, which have increased women and children’s vulnerability to rape and domestic violence, and cut our protection and escape routes:
· 86% of austerity cuts have fallen on women, cutting helplines, refuges, legal aid and criminal injuries compensation;
· 17% of refuges have closed since 2010; 2 in 3 women, and 4 in 5 BME women are turned away from a refuge every day; refuges must compete for dwindling council funds against housing, roads, libraries, etc.; many will close under new proposals to cut housing benefit on which 50 % of refuges depend;
· the children of mothers who report domestic violence and/or have been impoverished are taken from their mothers who are denied the support and protection they are entitled to; the number of children in care is the highest it’s been for 35 years; the UK has the highest adoption rate in Europe, 90% of it without the family’s consent; this amounts to punishment for mothers reporting rape;
· victims of domestic violence are denied legal aid and forced to defend themselves against violent ex-partners in the family court; evidence of violence is dismissed and children are forced into contact or even to live with violent fathers, endangering and in some cases ending their lives;
· women and children seeking asylum from rape and other torture have been refused entry, detained, made destitute and deported;
· slashed benefits and punitive sanctions have forced mothers into low-waged zero hours jobs or prostitution to feed their kids;
· sold off public housing has given free reign to profiteering landlords, forcing poor families away from their support networks.
We hope the Supreme Court, now headed by a distinguished woman, will support the rights of rape victims.