Christine Case, a 40 year old woman from Jamaica, died last Sunday while detained at Yarl’s Wood “immigration removal centre” near Bedford. Immigration minister James Brokenshire was forced to order an urgent investigation, after claims that Christine was only given paracetamol as she suffered the heart attack believed to have killed her.
Yashika Bageerathi, a 19 year old refugee from Mauritius, is also being held there as the government tries to deport her. Yashika and her family came to Britain in 2011 to escape a physically abusive relative. A campaign by pupils and staff from her school, Oasis Academy Hadley in north London, brought her case to public attention.
Yarl’s Wood is run by private security firm Serco. It is one of 13 detention centres around Britain. Nearly 30,000 immigrants are held at some point each year. Yarl’s Wood generally holds women.
Lydia Besong was held there for a month in 2009 and about two weeks in 2012. She and her husband fled from Cameroon in West Africa. “Yarl’s Wood feels like a prison,” Lydia told Socialist Worker.
“It is well fortified. It took me back to when I had been imprisoned for political reasons in my own country. You are supposed to be held in a centre like that for 72 hours at most, but people are there for weeks and months,” she said. “I keep in contact with women in detention. I know what they are going through. Those memories live with you.”
Meltem Avcil is now a student at Kingston University. But when she was 13 she was held at Yarl’s Wood for three months with her mother.
“I’ve witnessed the healthcare,” she told Socialist Worker. “The food wasn’t good and I got kidney problems. I was in real pain and I went to the doctor. I was crying. He told me, ‘Shut up!’ He acted as if I wasn’t human.”
Meltem’s family are Kurds who had fled Turkey. The campaign around her case helped end the detention of children at Yarl’s Wood. “Yarl’s Wood should be closed down,” she said. “There’s no reason people’s cases can’t be processed as they live in the community.”
Lydia said it is very important to organise. “Whether you get deported doesn’t depend on whether you have a good case or not,” she said. “It depends on how isolated you feel and how much help you get. So you need solidarity. My campaign was very important. I didn’t feel I was on my own.”
Meltem said, “While I was in detention I came across the NCADC (now called Right to Remain). They helped me to campaign.
“Many women in there feel powerless, so they are hesitant to do anything they think will offend the people running it. They think that might affect their cases. I’ve started a petition to ‘End the detention of women who seek asylum’ at change.org. It has 30,000 signatures but we need more.”
Yarl’s Wood was investigated last year over accusations that vulnerable women were sexually abused and witnesses deported. Seven Serco employees have been sacked for inappropriate behaviour.
At least 20 people are known to have died in immigration centres due to suicide, murder or “undetermined” causes. This does not include people such as Jimmy Mubenga and Alois Dvorzac who died while in detention.
When politicians attack immigrants, the reality behind the rhetoric is the horrors of Yarl’s Wood.
Brokenshire said the home office will not intervene in Yashika’s case despite more than 170,000 people signing a petition, as it has been through proper legal process.
Yashika should be at school not threatened with deportation—and not only because she is a good student. Socialist Worker argues that no one should be detained like this and people should be free to cross borders.
“If we fight together we can win,” said Lydia. “Let’s close Yarl’s Wood and all the other detention centres.”