Thursday, May 30

120 women on hunger strike in immigration centre



Former and current detainees met with Diane Abbot on Friday About 120 detainees in immigration detention centre Yarl’s Wood have reportedly been on four days of hunger strike against continued incarceration of migrants in the UK.

The detainees, who are all women, began striking on 21 February, in a protest at what they described as some of the most offensive government practices on immigration.

They include the detention of survivors of rape, torture and human trafficking, poor heath care conditions, and the detention of people indefinitely and without the decision of a judge.

In a note circulated by campaigners online, detainees say the Home Office is overwhelmed, not fit for purpose and operates in a rogue manner.

This is a fraction of the 30,000 who enter the UK’s immigration detention system each year, for reasons including overstaying a visa, awaiting deportation after a rejected claim, or while an asylum application is being processed.

Uniquely in Europe, the UK does not put a time limit on how long detainees can be held – a situation one striker said creates “unbearable” uncertainty, combined with the constant fear of deportation.

A spokesperson for Serco, the private contractor that runs the centre, told Sky News that there was no hunger strike. The Home Office denied people were detained indefinitely.

When people are detained, it is for the minimum time possible and detention is reviewed on a regular basis, a spokesperson said in a statement.

A 2017 report on the centre did not find evidence of widespread abuse, stating there had been significant improvements following a 2015 report that said it was “failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women”.

But campaigners say that imprisoning people because of their migration status is inhumane and unnecessary – particularly as 70% of women held in Yarl’s Wood are eventually released into the community.

People are not locked up to punish them for committing a crime and this terrifying, humiliating experience can have a hugely damaging impact on their mental and physical health, Dr Lisa Doyle, Director of Advocacy at the Refugee Council previously said.

On Friday detainees including some hunger strikers – spoke to shadow home secretary Diane Abbot, who was at the centre for a planned visit.

The MP tweeted she listened to harrowing experiences of detention from the women and said she was deeply concerned about how desperate the women were, their medical care and how long some have been detained.

Women involved in the strike have said they will continue to protest by refusing to work in the centre’s kitchens or gardens – for which they are normally paid £1 a day.

I am sick of feeling like a helpless institutionalised victim and refuse to participate in detention,” one participant, who described herself as an “angry foreigner who was made in Britain, said.