A last minute decision halted an attempt to deport the main witness to alleged sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.
Security at the centre is run by the private security firm Serco.
Sirah Jeng was due to make a witness statement to the police on Thursday of last week. She had told lawyers that she saw a Serco guard kissing a detainee, known as Tanja. CCTV appears to confirm the incident.
Tanja said that she was threatened with immediate deportation after she complained about the incident.
Sirah said, “I saw them kissing. Now they are trying to get rid of me before I can speak to the police.”
Though 90 percent of the people held at the centre are women, around half the staff are male.
Women at Yarl’s Wood have taken part in protests against the way they are treated and the lack of legal aid for many detainees over recent months, including a hunger strike.
Sirah, who lives in Manchester, was told to come to the local immigration reporting centre at 11am on Thursday, where she was detained and taken to Yarl’s Wood. She was due to be interviewed by the police at 5pm the same day.
UKBA gave her the legal minimum five days notice that she would be deported.
Serco has already sacked three guards over the allegations, two for engaging in sexual activity and a third for taking no action after it was reported. The Chief Inspector of Prisons said, “We were concerned to find that two staff had engaged in sexual activity with a female detainee, something that can never be less than abusive given the vulnerability of the detained population, and these staff had rightly been dismissed.”
Sirah has lived in Britain for 12 years and has a British husband. She has been held at Yarl’s Wood on five different occasions. She was set to be flown to Gambia from Gatwick airport at 9am on Tuesday morning, but the night before the flight was cancelled.
The Movement for Justice (MFJ), which has campaigned for Sirah said it believes that the attempted deportation is part of a campaign by the UKBA.
Anthony Gard of MFJ told the Guardian, “A system that abuses women’s human rights and dignity as Yarl’s Wood does inevitably lead to sexual abuse.
“When the UKBA interferes with a police inquiry to get a witness out of the country it’s a sign of their desperation and the impact the Yarl’s Wood women and their allies are having. It means we can defeat the cover-up.”