Women in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre began an indefinite hunger strike on Monday to demand an end to the degrading treatment and limitless detention they face.
Racist immigration laws mean that asylum seekers can be detained indefinitely in places such as Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire. Britain is the only country in Europe that does not have a limit.
Theresa, an asylum seeker from Uganda in east Africa, is one of the women on hunger strike. “Yarl’s Wood is depressing and oppressing, they don’t want people to know what it’s like inside,” she told Socialist Worker.
“They keep saying patronising things, like that the hunger strike won’t work because we’ve all got individual cases.
“But what affects me affects my sisters too, we’re doing it as a team to put our demands out there.”
The women went on hunger strike last week, but have now escalated to a sit-in protest outside the Home Office department in the centre. Theresa explained, “We had a three-day hunger strike, but it was nullified because we got water and juice.
“So about 25 of us are doing a sit-in as well this time.”
Guards at Yarl’s Wood, provided by outsourcing multinational Serco, have tried to crack down on the hunger strike. “They did a lock down on Monday so others could not join us here,” Theresa said.
Guards’ response to the hunger strike and sit-in is all part of the daily brutality meted out on behalf of the Home Office. Yarl’s Wood has been at the centre of allegations of racist abuse and sexual harassment by guards.
Theresa described being in Yarl’s Wood as “psychological torture”. “We should not be locked up like prisoners,” she said. “At least prisoners know how long they’ll be locked in for but we don’t.
“Before you know it, it’s six or seven months.”
And detainees have to jump through hoops to gain access to basic needs, such as medication. Theresa said, “Some people can’t access specialist medication and end up on paracetamol, but that’s no good for the liver.
“I needed Olbas Oil for sinuses, but they said they couldn’t prescribe it without going through security. They finally sent the email and then forgot about it. And when it came they said—sarcastically—don’t give it to anyone else.”
The hunger strike comes as Labour’s shadow health secretary Diane Abbott and attorney general Shami Chakrabarti went to Yarl’s Wood last week. Abbott called for the Tories to end their racist policy of indefinite detention.
Anti-racists should also demand that Labour pledges to shut down Yarl’s Wood and all the other immigration prisons. It should also stop deportations and grant asylum seekers indefinite leave to remain.
The women are determined to resist brutality.
As Theresa said, “The hunger strike will be indefinite to shake them up a little bit—we’re sticking to our guns.”
Anti-racists have to build a movement to show solidarity with them and build pressure on the Tories.