Yesterday, 2,000 people travelled to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre to protest the indefinite detention of women seeking asylum. The protest was organised by campaign group Movement for Justice (MFJ) who told gal-dem this was the most diverse turnout they had seen yet.
Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre is problematic for many reasons. Firstly, many of the women held in Yarl’s Wood have been subject to forms of unimaginable gendered persecution. These include rape, forced abortion and marriage. Some pregnant women are also being held in the centre. According to UK law, these women should only be held in detention as a last resort, due to the emotional and physical trauma which is likely to ensue. The chief inspector of prisons has found that the reasons used to hold women are not substantial, and that significant reform is needed.
Secondly, while inside of Yarl’s Wood, emotional and sexual abuse have been exposed. A Channel 4’s dispatches programme uncovered the racist attitudes of Serco staff, and women have disclosed how the predominantly male guards have watched them shower, change and made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature. Today, a banner was held outside of the window of Yarl’s Wood by women inside, which stated that Yarl’s Wood guards were “in relations” with vulnerable women. There has also been a claim of one woman becoming pregnant while inside Yarl’s Wood.
These women are held inside Yarl’s Wood in prison-like conditions for an indefinite amount of time. The healthcare provisions inside are abysmal, and many of the women held suffer from depression. The cost of housing one woman in Yarl’s Wood for a year is approximately £40,000 according to MFJ – a staggering £100 per day. Not only are the conditions inhumane, they are also economically irresponsible. Most of the women held inside of Yarl’s Wood are eventually returned to the UK community (out of the 1337 women removed from Yarl’s Wood at various points in 2015, 66% were released), rendering the expense pointless.
As if the trauma from being held in Yarl’s Wood wasn’t enough, the government has been deporting women from Yarl’s Wood en masse – through a charter flight system, a draconian form of control. On March 22nd, there is another charter flight scheduled. During the protest, Movement for Justice called on supporters of refugee women to raise awareness and demonstrate with them against these inherently racist practices.
For background information on the UK’s asylum procedures, see our article: How the UK’s asylum system is failing women.
“I’m an asylum seeker. But we are here to fight for our friends who are in the detention centre. I don’t know, maybe I’ll be the one in detention later. You know, we don’t know why we are put in detention. Why, we are asking this question for ourselves, we don’t know why. We are here to be safe, but we are not safe. So we don’t know, we are looking for the answers.”
Imani and Randa
“I’m here because I believe in the freedom of movement for everyone. Even if they’re an immigrant, if they’ve been displaced by war I think you shouldn’t just have access between countries if you’re European and white. We should all have that, and there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant, that’s even arbitrary in itself.”
“To encourage the women inside, that they should keep fighting. They should never give up, they should keep resisting everything that the government has given to them. As long as we are outside fighting and they are fighting then definitely they are going to shut down detention. We don’t need it, the women should be free.”
Cordelia and Tulani
“I’m from Zimbabwe, I’m here because a lot of women are being detained, and obviously the rights of people are being abused and kept in detention centres and children are also being kept in detention centres. So this is a fight for their freedom, to be shut down. People are not illegal but they are being treated as criminals.
“I’m here for them to close these detention centres all over the country, and to stop detaining people for no reason. Not to put children in detention centres, especially women who are pregnant.”
“I came because the women in detention centres like Yarl’s Wood have been abused, there’s been no respect for their human rights. They’ve been sexually abused by unaccountable people like Serco and we need to give them a voice, that’s why I’m here as a woman of colour myself and because they need to have us out here supporting them. And if we are going to have any progress it has to be alongside the women in these places.”
Anne and Chigoze
“I was there for three months, and I am here today because I want this place to be shut down. It’s dehumanising; no human, no child, no mother should be inside that Yarl’s Wood. I want to see it shut down at all costs… They must shut down Yarl’s Wood, that is my request today.”
“Because detention centres need to be shut down, because it’s racist, it’s sexist, it’s xenophobic, it’s all the ‘ists’. I’m here with Sisters Uncut; that’s my activist group. We campaign cuts to domestic violence services and we see this as intrinsically interlinked with that fight. This is a sexist thing, it’s a racist thing and Yarl’s Wood needs to be shut down in order to protect the women, because so many of the women inside are survivors of domestic violence, are survivors of rape. Persecuted in their own countries and they come here for safety and get locked up indefinitely, so we think that’s disgusting.”
“I’m from Sisters Uncut, which is an organisation which fights against cuts to domestic violence services. The reason why I’m here today is because when I emigrated to this country, my mum was held in detention. It’s a very personal story for me, I think it’s completely barbaric that this continues to happen 15 years later. I think particularly Yarl’s Wood is a pretty emotional space. The vast majority of these women have experienced sexual and domestic violence. Their guards are male and they continue to experience violence in these detention centres, so I’m here just to say that the government should be putting money into safety… I want them to know that they’re not alone.”
“I’m here to support the women who are being kept here totally unfairly when it isn’t their fault at all and to show solidarity with them. And to show that we haven’t forgotten them, we love them, and to give them some form of acceptance really.”
Michal and Zahra
“Yarl’s Wood’s treatment of people of colour is disgusting and inhumane. No human should be treated the way the people being held are being treated. I’m here to show them that we’re listening even though this is such a small action. No human is illegal!”
“I came because everything that happens to them is so abhorrent, It upsets me just hearing about it. So I’m just trying to contribute in the smallest way that I can really.”