Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre
Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre is an immigration detention centre at Milton Ernest in Bedfordshire, England. It opened on 19 November 2001 and was built to hold up to 900 people making it the largest immigration detention centre in Europe at the time. Since opening in 2001 has been dogged by controversy. In February 2002, it was gutted through a fire, reopening in September 2003. Throughout its operational period a number of hunger strikes and riots have occurred there. On 11 January 2011, the High Court ruled that the continued detention of the children of failed asylum seekers at Yarl's Wood is unlawful.
In May 2007, it was reported that there was a hunger strike involving over 100 women.
On 4 February 2010, a hunger strike began with a number of women protesting their indefinite detention. One hunger striker had been held for 15 months. The hunger strike was escalated when, according to a Guardian report, "70 women taking part in a protest were locked in an airless corridor without water or toilet facilities."
February 2002 fire
In early February 2002, the building was burnt down following a protest by the detainees. This was triggered by someone being physically restrained by staff. According to custody officer Darren Attwood, officers complied with orders to "lock the detainees in the burning building". Five people were injured in the fire.
There have been a series of corroborated allegations of a sexual nature made against staff. The only witness to one alleged incident was deported before she was interview by the police. Almost 90% of people held at Yarl's Wood are women, yet about half the staff are male.
The decision in November 2014 to give Serco a new £70 million eight-year contract to run the centre has been criticised by Natasha Walter, of Women for Refugee Women, who said "Serco is clearly unfit to manage a centre where vulnerable women are held and it is unacceptable the government continues to entrust Serco with the safety of women who are survivors of sexual violence."
In September 2005 Manuel Bravo, an asylum seeker from Angola, hanged himself while in detention awaiting deportation with his 13-year-old son following a dawn raid at his home in Leeds. In March 2014, 40-year-old Christine Case from Jamaica died at the centre from a massive pulmonary thrombo-embolism. The family were told of her death only eight hours later, and an investigation is under way into accusations that staff denied her medical assistance before her death.
Inquiries into provision at Yarl's Wood
In March 2004, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman published a report into allegations of racism, abuse and violence, based on 19 claims made by an undercover reporter for the Daily Mirror. The report found evidence of a number of racist incidents, although noted that staff had been disciplined following publication of the journalists findings, and that an allegation of assault had not been properly investigated.
In October 2004, the prisons and probation ombudsman published an inquiry into the disturbance and fire in 2001. One of its main findings was that the provision of sprinklers could have prevented the damage caused. In February 2005, a local fire chief alleged that the lessons had not been learnt as it was announced that there were no plans to introduce sprinklers.
In February 2006, the Chief Inspector of Prisons published an inquiry into the quality of health care at Yarl's Wood. It found substantial gaps in provision and identified 134 recommendations.
A 2006 Legal Action for Women (LAW) investigation into Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre found that: 70% of women had reported rape, nearly half had been detained for over three months. 57% had no legal representation, and 20% had lawyers who demanded payment in advance. Women reported sexual and racial intimidation by guards. LAW’s Self-Help Guide has been confiscated by guards depriving detainees of information about their rights.
In April 2009, the Children's Commissioner for England published a report which stated that children held in the detention centre are denied urgent medical treatment, handled violently and left at risk of serious harm. The report details how children are transported in caged vans, and watched by opposite-sex staff as they dress. This follows earlier allegations in 2005 by the Chief Inspector of Prisons that children were being damaged by being held in the institution, citing in particular an autistic five year old who had not eaten properly in several days.
In April 2014, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, was barred from Yarl's Wood by the Home Office when she tried to investigate complaints about the centre as part of her fact-finding mission into violence against women in the UK. In her 2015 report, Manjoo said that her being barred from Yarl's Wood reminded her of when the Bangladeshi government refused her access to investigate alleged crimes against women at a notorious refugee camp and when the Indian government forbade her entry to state-run facilities.
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- Girma, Marchu; Radice, Sophie; Tsangarides, Natasha; Walter, Natasha (2014). "Detained: Women Asylum Seekers Locked Up in the UK". With a foreword by Philippe Sands. London: Women for Refugee Women.
- Yarl's Wood Immigration Centre
- UK Border Agency page on Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre
- Yarl's Wood Befrienders