This is the joint website of  Women Against Rape and Black Women's Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

 

 

 

Yarl's Wood women on hunger strike 'locked up and denied treatment'

In the Media

Hunger strikers at immigration centre tell of squalid conditions

'We are not criminals; we are ordinary people who are being locked up and threatened', says hunger striker at Yarl's Wood
 

Afua Hirsch and Matthew Taylor
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 February 2010

Pressure is mounting for an inquiry after female hunger strikers at Yarl's Wood described squalid conditions and made an allegation of racism at the immigration detention centre.

As the Home Office admitted improvements were needed at the Bedfordshire centre, it emerged that four "ringleaders" had been transferred to prison.

About 70 women were detained in an airless corridor without water or toilet facilities on Monday, three days after the start of the hunger strike.

"It is essential for the integrity of the asylum system that there is proper verification of exactly what happened last Monday at Yarl's Wood," said the Tory MP for North East Bedfordshire, Alistair Burt. "There should be an independent inquiry or at least independent report, possibly through the chief inspector of prisons."

Detainees at Yarl's Wood say that 50 women have been on hunger strike since last Friday, and will continue to refuse food until calls for their release from indefinite detention at the centre are answered.

"The government is locking up mothers with British children and claiming they have no family ties in this country," said Moji Daniels, who has three grown-up children in the UK and is on hunger strike in Yarl's Wood. "There are eight women here for more than two years, 16 women who have been here for over one year and around 50 for over six months.

"We are not criminals; we are ordinary people who are being locked up and threatened — the outside world has no idea how we are being treated."

Detainee reports about last Monday are increasing pressure on the authorities.

"Some of the ladies started getting sick and collapsing on the floor. There was one asthma lady, one sickle cell lady and two others who were choking on the floor. We were all hyperventilating and sweating," said Daniels. "[Women had to] wee on the ground. The officers were all watching and still refused to open the door. Some women needed to change their sanitary towel … but they had to throw bloodied towels next to where we were standing."

Women trying to escape through windows were met with officers carrying police shields, she said. "They crushed the ladies who were trying to get out with the guard shield and pushed them to the ground. Some women were crushed to the ground. Two ladies were physically injured and were bleeding."

Denise McNeil, 35, who escaped through the windows and is now being held in isolation, said she had been punched and racially abused by staff.

News of the transfer of four detainees to prison and the use of isolation was criticised yesterday. "These women are being punished for protesting against the detention," said Cristal Amiss from Black Women's Rape Action Project. "They are already having to put their lives on the line to get justice, and now they have been transferred to prison. It's an outrage.

"This is the criminalisation of poverty. Every single one of these women has a compelling reason to be free. Many are rape survivors, and mothers separated from their children. Both women and their children are being left traumatised. It's horrendous."

Jon Evershed, 21, is one of six students at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London on hunger strike in support of the women at Yarl's Wood. He said: "What goes on in Yarl's Wood is abhorrent — locking vulnerable people and families up for the purpose of immigration control is awful."

The protest came as the parliamentary ombudsman, Ann Abraham, released damning findings last week on the work of the UK Border Authority in swiftly resolving asylum claims. The report criticised UKBA for a persistent backlog of cases, stating that delay was penalising individuals, draining public funds and jeopardising confidence in the asylum.

Figures from 2008 show that eight people were detained for more than a year, with 121 detained for between 120 and 364 days. A total of 1,271 children were also held in detention, with 232 detained for more than a month.

"I am constantly astonished at the inability of Home Office officials to simply answer letters and tell people what the status of their case is," said Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North. "When the Home Office detains large numbers of people, and denies people awaiting a decision the opportunity to contribute to society, then there is something badly wrong with way that system operates."

"Detention should be the last resort," said Patrick Hall, Labour MP for Bedford. "Should we not be looking for means of dealing with people who are going through legal processes. Only detain when truly concluded?"

A Home Office minister, Meg Hillier, said it was fair to detain people in facilities including Yarl's Wood. "People are in this detention centre because they have refused to leave on a voluntary basis, often with generous packages of support," she said. "They are not moved to Yarl's Wood except to facilitate deportation."

Hillier added: "Delays and backlog have been an enormous problem. We did inherit a very big backlog. The vast majority will be cleared by 2011."

 

Yarl's Wood women on hunger strike 'locked up and denied treatment'

Yarls-Wood-001.jpgAs their protest runs into a fourth day, some are said to be fainting or injured. But the Home Office denies wrongdoing
 

Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 9 February 2010

Yarl's Wood detention centre, scene of the women's protest
Photograph: David Levene
 

An immigration removal centre was reported to be in a state of chaos yesterday, as at least 50 women entered the fourth day of a hunger strike in protest against their detention and conditions, with ­several reportedly fainting in corridors and almost 20 locked outdoors wearing few clothes.

Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, which houses 405 women and children, was in lockdown, leaving women in communal spaces without food, water or toilet facilities.

Several women who tried to escape through a window were then locked outside, according to one detainee, including one whose finger was almost severed as she escaped but who had not received medical treatment.

"We have been on hunger strike since Friday protesting about the length of time we have spent in detention here," said Aisha, who has been in Yarl's Wood for three months. "We have been locked in the hallway all day – five ladies have fainted because they have not eaten since Friday. No one has come to give them any medical attention.

"I had an asthma attack, but no one would come to give me my inhaler. I'm very weak. But we will stay on hunger strike for as long as it takes."

Campaigners condemned the response of the authorities at the centre, accusing them of using a "kettling" technique to trap the women.

"The women are currently trapped in an airless hallway," said Cristel Amiss, of Black Women's Rape Action Project. "Women should be allowed back into their rooms immediately; there should be an immediate investigation."

The Home Office confirmed the disturbance, saying that 40 women were involved, and insisted the measures were temporary until the women could be reintegrated into the centre.

"The wellbeing of detainees is of ­paramount concern, which is why healthcare staff are at the scene to monitor developments," said David Wood, strategic director at the UK Border Agency. "The detainees will be integrated back into the centre at the earliest opportunity."

The hunger strike is the latest in a series of protests at the facility, which has attracted controversy for detaining women for long periods.

Campaigners say many of the women being detained are also victims of abuse and rape and should not be held while awaiting deportation decisions.

"Over 70% of women in Yarl's Wood are rape survivors, many are sick and vulnerable," said Amiss.

"Why are they being punished for raising serious injustices?"

The Home Office denied its practices in detaining immigrants were unfair.

"All detainees are treated with dignity and respect, with access to legal advice and health care facilities," said Wood.
 

Mothers go on hunger strike at immigration centre after being separated from children

A group of up to 80 mothers detained at an immigration centre have gone in hunger strike in protest at being separated from their children, it has emerged.

Daily Telegraph 09 Feb 2010

Yarl_s-Wood_1574589c.jpgPolice were called to the Yarl's Wood centre in Bedfordshire where the women are said to be taking a stand against their detention and conditions.

A statement released by a group called 'Women behind the Wire @ Yarl's Wood IRC' said the hunger strike began on Friday.

It is understood a number of protesters were separated from the other detainees today and kept in a hallway or corridor for several hours after asking to speak to officials.

One detainee, who said she had been held at the centre for three months without her two young children, told how 80 or so women had spent at least six hours shut in a hallway.

The woman, who gave her name only as Aisha, said: ''We just came in here quietly and said we wanted to speak to the immigration people.

''All we want is an explanation of why we have to be detained for so long.

''It's getting really cold in this hallway now and we have no water, no food and no toilet facilities. Women have had to go to the toilet in the same room we've been locked up in.

''Five women have fainted. There's urine everywhere, it's disgusting and it smells.''

It is not clear exactly how many of the women have been separated from their children.

Aisha's children, aged 10 and six, are being looked after by her sister in Kilburn, north-west London, and she can only see them once a fortnight when they come and visit her, she added.

The 29-year-old Nigerian came to the UK in 1999 and was imprisoned in 2004 for using false documents to enrol at a university in London, she said.

She served six months behind bars and on her release was taken to Yarl's Wood.

Lisa Nandy, policy adviser at the Children's Society, and Celia Clarke, director of Bail for Immigration Detainees, said in a joint statement: ''We are very concerned about the reports we have received from detainees in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre that there has been a disturbance that has resulted in the police being called.

''We understand that a number of women are protesting against their enforced separation from their children and are extremely distressed.

''We urge the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to ensure the safety of all the women involved in this protest. We share their concerns about the impact of separating a child from their mother.''

The UKBA said the detainees would be integrated back into the centre at the earliest opportunity.

David Wood, strategic director of the UKBA's criminality and detention group, said: ''Around 40 women at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre are protesting against their detention and have been separated from other detainees while staff try to resolve concerns raised by these individuals.

''The well-being of detainees is of paramount concern to the UK Border Agency, which is why healthcare staff are at the scene to monitor developments.

''All detainees are treated with dignity and respect, with access to legal advice and healthcare facilities. We only remove those who both the UKBA and the independent courts deem to have no legal right to be here.''

Today's incident was contained within the compound, Bedfordshire Police said.

A spokeswoman said: ''Bedfordshire Police were called by staff at Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre at 1.30pm following reports of minor disorder involving a small number of detainees.

''The police helicopter flew over the area at lunchtime for assessment purposes but has since left.

''As of 2pm today all detainees were described as calm and talking with Yarl's Wood staff to address their concerns.

''Police officers, including dog units, are on standby outside the perimeter fence of the compound and will not be involved unless requested directly.''

No one is thought to have been injured.

Women behind the Wire is calling for an end to the detention of children and their mothers, rape survivors and other torture victims; an end to the detention of physically or mentally sick people and pregnant women for long periods of time; enough time and resources for residents who need to present their cases; access to appropriate medical treatment and care; access to edible and well-cooked food; and phones with good mobile connections including camera and recording facilities to back up cases.

The group said it also wants to stop the forceful removal and deportation of detainees and detention for asylum seekers and torture victims.

Yarl's Wood opened in 2001 and has become the UK's main removal centre for women and families.

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