NCW Seminar on the treatment of asylum seeking women in Yarl's Wood Detention Centre 28 September 2015

NCW Seminar on the treatment of asylum seeking women in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre 28 September 2015

* 6,000 women come to UK each year to seek asylum in own right

* 2,000 asylum-seeking women detained each year

* Majority of women held in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, near Bedford

* Two research reports into experiences of asylum-seeking women in detention: Detained (2014) and I Am Human (2015)

* Majority of women told us they had experienced rape, sexual violence or torture in their home countries, which led them to seek asylum in the UK


* 33 of the 43 women (77%) who disclosed experiences of persecution told us that they had been raped

* 40 women (93%) said they had been either raped or tortured

I Am Human

* 24 out of the 34 women (71%) who disclosed experiences of persecution said they had experienced rape or sexual violence

* 26 women (76%) said they had experienced either rape or torture

* Home Office policy: survivors of torture should only be detained in exceptional circumstances

* Detention supposed to be used to effect removal – but two-thirds of asylum-seeking women released to continue with claim in community!

* UK has no time limit on detention

* Being locked up is in itself traumatising: exacerbates existing mental health problems, and causes them

* High levels of mental distress in Yarl’s Wood

* Our research: 1 in 5 women said they tried to kill themselves, 40% said they self-harmed

* Longstanding concerns about conditions in Yarl’s Wood

* Run by private company, Serco

* In June 2014, Serco admitted to Home Affairs Committee that 10 staff dismissed for sexual contact with women detained there (over a number of years)

* Our reports: ongoing allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation

* Women also report being routinely watched in intimate situations by male guards

* I Am Human: Over 85% of women said male guards had seen them in intimate situations, including in bed, on the toilet or in the shower

‘It bothered me so much. I have a history of sexual abuse. This man can do anything to me. It’s not right at all. It makes you so vulnerable.’

‘I felt ashamed. A total stranger just saw you naked and you have to see them all day. It breaks your confidence.’

* Male staff searching women and their rooms

* Racist abuse women are subjected to; Channel 4 News report in March 2015 filmed this

* Segregation used as threat/punishment; physical assault during attempted removal

* Poor standards of healthcare in Yarl’s Wood have been well documented

* Detained: 42% of women rated healthcare as very bad, 20% as bad

* Pregnant women routinely detained, against Home Office’s own policy.

* Above all, women spoke about a culture of disbelief amongst healthcare staff

* Home Office policy sets out groups of people who shouldn’t normally be detained, including survivors of torture and pregnant women

* However, this is often flouted:

* Our evidence shows that survivors of torture, including women who have been raped, are routinely detained

* Prisons Inspectorate report found that in 2014, 99 pregnant women were detained in Yarl’s Wood

‘I had three men guarding me. Even when the gynaecologist was doing an examination on me there were male guards in the room watching me. When I went to the toilet they were the ones who took me. When I sat down on the toilet the male guards were there. It made me feel ashamed.’

* Gender-specific standards should be introduced for the detention estate, including the requirement that no male staff is employed in roles where they come into contact with women detainees.

* Those who have experienced rape, sexual violence or other gender-based violence should not be detained.

* Pregnant women should not be detained.

* The Detained Fast Track should be abolished.

* A time limit of 28 days on all immigration detention should be introduced.

* Engagement-focused ‘alternatives to detention’ should be developed in the UK.

* Alongside significant harm it causes, detention is ineffective:

* In 2013, two-thirds of asylum-seeking women were released from Yarl’s Wood to continue with their claims in the community

* Of 99 pregnant women detained in 2014, just 9 were deported; 90% were released!

* Detention is also expensive – it costs just under £40,000 a year to hold someone in a detention centre

2015 so far …

* February: Home Secretary announces review of welfare of vulnerable people in detention

* March: First ever Parliamentary inquiry into detention published

* June: Set Her Free protest at Yarl’s Wood – 1,000+ protestors!

* August: Prisons Inspectorate report on Yarl’s Wood, calls it ‘place of national concern’

* September: Backbench debate on immigration detention – motion calling for reform passed

What you can do:

* Motion at NCWGB national conference – thank you!

* Sign up to our newsletter & keep up-to-date with campaign actions: www.refugeewomen.com

* Local work on pregnant women – get in touch if you’d like to be involved: gemma@refugeewomen.co.uk

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