By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
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From inside Yarl’s Wood: ‘Keeping people in here indefinitely is killing us’

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Issue 2597
Yarls Wood immigration detention centre
Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Women detainees in Yarl’s Wood are demanding that the Home Office responds to their calls to end indefinite detention.

Theresa, a detainee from Uganda in east Africa, has been in the Bedfordshire immigration detention centre for three months. “But I don’t know how long I’ll be here—it’s that uncertainly that kills us every day,” she told Socialist Worker.

“We’ve given the Home Office our demands to end indefinite detention, but they have not responded and failed to address them.”

The demand comes in the week that a House of Commons committee heard damning evidence of the regime at Yarl’s Wood.

There was testimony that “the majority of asylum-seeking women who are held in detention in Yarl’s Wood are survivors of rape or other forms of gender violence” and that In Yarl’s Wood there is a clear sense of desperation”.

Theresa was one of the 120 women who launched an all-out hunger strike calling for an end to indefinite detention on 21 February. She said, “Most people in Yarl’s Wood detention centre are not on hunger strike.

“The mood is low among the detainees, but we’ve still got the same attitude of anger and dissatisfaction”.


The Home Office and security guards, provided by outsourcing multinational Serco, worked hard to undermine the hunger strikers’ morale. Theresa said, “They just distance themselves from the policies and laws and regulations to make decision.

“As a hunger strike I had interviews where they’d say, ‘We don’t make the policies, we’re just doing our job following the guidelines’.

“They are playing with people’s lives—they’re hitting targets and you are just a number.”

The Tories’ racist immigration policies are to blame for locking up migrants. Theresa said, “Someone sits up there, whether it’s the prime minister or the home secretary, and decides how many should Britain have.

“That’s why we’re all in Yarl’s Wood, why we have asylum cases running. There are people who came to Britain many years ago as minors, but they suffering in this era of targets.

“Asylum has ceased to be about someone’s life being in danger, it’s just about what number they want coming in.”

She added, “The Home Office should close the detention centres down. Period. Keeping people in here indefinitely like this is killing us.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has pledged to end indefinite detention. Anti-racists should demand that a Labour government would end all deportations, shut down the detention centres and give all asylum seekers indefinite leave to remain.

We need a mass movement against racism that shows solidarity with the detainees and takes on the Tories’.

Anti-racists are planning to protest outside Yarl’s Wood on Saturday. Theresa said, “We heard that people were coming to protest outside and we’re looking forward to it because we need people out there voicing their concern.”

A sense of desperation

Testimony to the House of Commons Home Affairs committee, 20 March

Gemma Lousley, policy and research co-ordinator at Women for Refugee Women. This is a charity that works with women seeking asylum in Britain to challenge the injustices of the asylum system.

Our research has shown that the majority of asylum-seeking women who are held in detention in Yarl’s Wood are survivors of rape or other forms of gender violence. They are already incredibly vulnerable and traumatised women, and they are put into a system that re-traumatises them.

We published a report last year that showed that 85 percent of the women we spoke to who had claimed asylum and who had subsequently been detained in Yarl’s Wood had survived rape or other forms of gender violence.

We have a clear concern at the moment that the Home Office has promised reform in relation to the system of immigration detention, but 18 months on from that the reform has not materialised.

There is a culture of disbelief among the healthcare staff at Yarl’s Wood. When women go and talk to mental health and other healthcare staff, it is assumed what they are saying about how they are feeling and what they are experiencing in terms of their health is not true.

Desperation is absolutely the right word in terms of the atmosphere in Yarl’s Wood. There is an extreme feeling of insecurity, instability and anxiety. When the Prisons Inspectorate inspected Yarl’s Wood last year it found in its survey that almost half of the women there, 47 percent of the women in Yarl’s Wood, said they felt unsafe in the centre.

Tom Nunn, manages the Right to Liberty project for immigration detainees.

Many of the decisions to detain people are based on no logic at all.

The decision to continue to detain people often feels very much like people are completely forgotten. They are there indefinitely until something happens.

In Yarl’s Wood there is a clear sense of desperation, more than maybe in some of the other centres. There are a lot of people that are really eager to get legal advice and for whatever reason they are not able to get it. When I go in I will have people waiting for over four hours in the corridor to get 10 minutes of legal advice from us, which is potentially to do with what stage people come to it.

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