Yarl’s Wood: Women on Hunger Strike “Our rights in here are being violated every day – we’ve had enough”

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.
4. End Charter flights. These are inhumane because women get no prior notifications, which leaves no time to make arrangements with family members.

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

 

[i] A group of women asylum seekers based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.