“We were held for many hours, without food, some women fainting and ill.”
On Wednesday 17 October, 200 women were “kettled” in a corridor in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire for eight hours. The detention centre remains in “lock down”. Some have been stopped from getting their medication. Five women are being held “incommunicado” and guards are threatening further reprisals.
One woman writes:
“There has been intimidation and oppression directed towards us. Even today [18 Oct] we were all locked in with no free movement until 1.30pm. We had no access to the internet so women couldn’t get information to support their cases. This is especially terrible for those on the Fast Track system who have only two days to make an application or appeal. Some women have not been able to get the medication they need.”
Guards have tried to sow division among women of different races but women say: “we ignored that and we all pulled together to bring the foundation of the detention centre shaking!”
Women had gathered to demand a meeting with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) after Serco guards dragged a naked woman (Ms CN) from her room in an attempt to deport her. UKBA said they would only meet women if they came in one by one. Women refused to be picked off and the guards locked them in the corridor. Earlier this month 120 women gathered to agree a set of demands
to address the injustice they faced including: “no more Fast Track [where asylum decisions are made within days, leaving no time for evidence to be gathered]; full internet access; pay us at least the minimum wage for our work; no more copy & paste of case decisions – we need fair trial; no more charter flights.”
The treatment of Ms CN which sparked the protest is typical. She is a rape survivor whose asylum claim was dismissed after the HO claimed she was lying about having been raped. She was saved from deportation by protests at the airport organised by the group Movement for Justice. Women Against Rape is helping her get legal and other expert help to pursue her asylum claim.
Ms Margaret Nambi, gang raped in Uganda, trafficked into domestic servitude in the UK and made destitute, then raped over several years at the instigation of the person she was forced to live with, was detained on 9 October without her asylum claim being considered.
Verna Joseph who led a hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood last year and was also “kettled” with 80 women in a corridor for over eight hours commented: “We stopped eating to protest at mothers being separated from children, women being held for months inside with no explanation or hearing and the abuse of women who have suffered rape and other torture. Our demands were similar those being made now – it is shocking that nothing has changed
Just last week Foreign secretary, William Hague, pledged £1 million to “preventing sexual and gender-based crimes in conflict and post-conflict situations” and “securing justice for survivors”. Yet when women, by their own courageous efforts, escape from rape in war zones they are treated as liars and detained. The only survey of its kind (Bleak House, 2007) found that 70% of women asylum seekers in Yarl’s Wood were rape survivors.
Black Women’s Rape Action Project is in daily contact with women inside and is hearing reports that women who protested have lost their jobs and are facing retribution in other ways.
Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews London NW5 2DX