A hunger strike and protest by women detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire has highlighted ongoing problems at the centre and new ones with Serco, the company that has run it since April.
Yarl’s Wood detainee and protester Jacklyn Edwards told Socialist Worker, “We took sheets and wrote demands on them. The following morning about 30 of us met in the courtyard for a protest.”
This was joined by up to 200 women and led to a hunger strike, which was also supported by some 90 mothers detained with their children.
Serco admits it plans up to 185 redundancies from a staff of 339. Jacklyn explains, “There could be two officers overseeing 270 women in a wing at night. So they’ll have to lock us down to keep control. What would happen if there was any sort of emergency?”
The trigger for the hunger strike was an alleged plan to lock women in their rooms from 7pm to 7am, to confiscate mobile phones and cut Sky News – one of the few channels that is received clearly.
The centre’s director denied that any of the cuts would happen, but refused to put that in writing.
Jacklyn is being held in the segregation wing and threatened with removal to prison.
She is accused of setting off a fire alarm and threatening a staff member, though other detainees say these allegations are false.
Jacklyn doesn't deny being one of the first protesters, but says she is being made a scapegoat. 'My mouth is so loud and so strong, they just hate me,' she adds.
A letter to the director, signed by 100 detainees, says, “If Jackie should be punished, then we all detainees should be punished because we were all involved in the protest.”
Jacklyn is fighting deportation to Jamaica. She fled the country traumatised after being raped, and is fighting for her right to stay in Britain.
Cristel Amiss of Black Women's Rape Action Project who works with the detainees, says, 'the hunger strike has helped focus anger over a range of issues, including sexist and racist treatment of detainees.'
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