Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre

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Entrance to the detention 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.[1]

It is operated by the Serco Group.[2]

Controversies[edit]

In 2012, more than 28,000 individuals were held in immigration detention [in the UK]. Many were held for only a few days, but more than one third have been held for more than two months, and others have been detained for many months or years. Some 2,000 were women who had sought asylum in the UK. The United Kingdom is one of the few European countries that puts no time limit on such detention.[3]

Philippe Sands

Hunger strikes[edit]

In December 2001 just after opening the first hunger strike began with twenty five Roma detainees refusing to eat.[4][5]

In May 2007, it was reported that there was a hunger strike involving over 100 women.[6]

On February 4, 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."[7]

February 2002 fire[edit]

Yarl's Wood fire aftermath, February 2002

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".[8] Five people were injured in the fire.[9]

Sexual abuse[edit]

There have been a series of corroborated allegations of a sexual nature made against staff.[10][11] The only witness to one alleged incident was deported before she was interview by the police.[12] Almost 90% of people held at Yarl's Wood are women, yet about half the staff are male.[12]

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."[13]

Deaths[edit]

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.[14] 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 to determine whether accusations that staff denied her medical assistance before her death.[15][16]

Inquiries into provision at Yarl's Wood[edit]

A September 2003 report by the inspector of Prisons, found that provision at Yarl's Wood was "not safe". [17]

In March 2004, the Prisons and Probations 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.[18]

In October 2004, the prisons and probations 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

A 2006 Legal Action for Women (LAW)[22] 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.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Yarls Wood families' detention ruled unlawful | Liberty - protecting civil liberties, promoting human rights". Liberty-human-rights.org.uk. 2011-01-11. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  2. ^ "UK Border Agency | Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre". Ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  3. ^ Sands, Philippe, Foreword to Girma et al. 2014
  4. ^ "Britain: Fire at Yarl’s Wood detention centre highlights plight of refugees - World Socialist Web Site". Wsws.org. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  5. ^ "ENGLAND | Vigil held for hunger strike refugee". BBC News. 2002-01-03. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  6. ^ Watt, Nicholas (2007-05-20). "Hodge call for rethink over immigrants | UK news | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  7. ^ Matthew Taylor (2010-02-21). "Fears for health of Yarl's Wood women in third week of hunger strike | UK news". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  8. ^ Morris, Steven (23 July 2003). "Asylum seekers 'were locked in during fire'". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  9. ^ "ENGLAND | Eye-witness accounts from Yarl's Wood". BBC News. 2002-02-15. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  10. ^ Townsend, Mark (14 September 2013). "Yarl's Wood abuse allegations: Tanja's story". theguardian.com. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  11. ^ Townsend, Mark (21 September 2013). "Sexual abuse allegations corroborated at Yarl's Wood immigration centre". theguardian.com. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  12. ^ a b Townsend, Mark (2 November 2013). "Yarl's Wood sex inquiry witness to be deported without speaking to police". theguardian.com. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  13. ^ "Yarl's Wood £70m Serco contract renewal 'unacceptable'". BBC News. 24 November 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  14. ^ [1][dead link]
  15. ^ "Claim Yarl's Wood denied dying woman medical care probed". 1 April 2014. BBC News. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  16. ^ Taylor, Diane (3 April 2014). "Yarl's Wood death: family and fellow detainees tell of shock and despair". theguardian.com. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "UK | England | London | Immigration centre 'not safe'". BBC News. 2003-09-29. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  18. ^ [2][dead link]
  19. ^ [3][dead link]
  20. ^ "UK | England | Beds/Bucks/Herts | Yarl's Wood 'lessons not learnt'". BBC News. 2005-02-13. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  21. ^ "HMIC". Inspectorates.homeoffice.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  22. ^ [4][dead link]
  23. ^ Jess McCabe. "Yarl's Wood staff steal legal guide from asylum seeker - Blog". The F-Word. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  24. ^ "Inside Yarl's Wood: Britain's shame over child detainees - Home News - UK". London: The Independent. 2009-04-26. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  25. ^ "UK | England | Beds/Bucks/Herts | Centre 'damaging' child detainees". BBC News. 2005-07-27. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  26. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (15 April 2014). "UN special rapporteur criticises Britain's 'in-your-face' sexist culture". theguardian.com. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°11′43″N 0°29′05″W / 52.19528°N 0.48472°W / 52.19528; -0.48472