`No racism at Yarl’s wood’: Meg Hillier

`Detainees are treated with dignity, respect’

25th February 2010: Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre is free from incidents of racial abuse and violence. All detainees are treated with dignity and respect, with access to legal advice and healthcare — this is what Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Meg Hillier is claiming.

She has written a letter to members of Parliament about the unfounded allegations made by the media on hunger strikes at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.

In the letter, Hiller has asserted: `Recent media reports, and in particular, the Guardian article regarding Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre on Monday 22 February, made a number of unfounded allegations which I feel must be corrected.

`Firstly I should make clear that detention is only used when people have refused to leave the country voluntarily, despite support being offered for them to do so, and we have to enforce that removal. Detention is a vital tool in the removal of failed asylum seekers, ex-foreign national prisoners and others whose application to stay have been fully considered by the UK Border Agency and the independent Courts but have failed.

`The cases of those in detention continue to be examined. However, individual detainees frequently prolong detention and removal with the use of judicial reviews or obstructive behaviour.

`In relation to recent articles on the ‘hunger strike’, we need to be clear about a number of things. The recent Guardian article claims that detainees are not eating and are getting sick. This is not the case. Whilst there are a small number of detainees refusing formal meals from the canteen, they are buying food from the centre’s shop and vending machines and having food delivered by visitors. They are all also drinking.

`All these individuals are offered appointments with medical staff, are monitored closely by the operational and healthcare team and not one has presented any medical concerns as a result of the food refusal protest.

`Any claims that one detainee is on the verge of renal failure, or that others are suffering ill health as a result are false. In fact the woman who was highlighted as being on the verge of renal failure has been examined by a doctor and tests have established she is in good health.

`Yarl’s Wood has free on-site primary healthcare provision and this reflects the level of care provided by NHS general practices. Healthcare staff total the equivalent of 16 full-time nurses, including a paediatric nurse, mental health and general nurses. GPs visit Yarl’s Wood for 46 hours a week and are available on call at all times. There are registered on-site counsellors who work with children and their families taking a holistic approach to meet the families’ needs.

`The article also quotes a detainee who claims she should have her case looked at because she is not a criminal and has a little girl. In fact she was previously convicted of a serious criminal offence and is subject to legal restrictions by the courts for access to one of her children.

`There have also been allegations in the Guardian, and other media about incidents of racial abuse and violence directed at detainees. I can assure you that there was no such behaviour by our staff. Yarl’s Wood is monitored by CCTV and that throughout the protest that took place on Monday 8th February members of the Independent Monitoring Board were present to monitor handling of the situation. They have raised no concerns about the way the women were treated.

`All the detainees are treated with dignity and respect, with access to legal advice and healthcare, and no allegation of in appropriate behaviour has been made by any detainee involved in these recent events.

`Had there been so, they would have been investigated. The current misreporting, based on inaccurate and fabricated statements by those who campaign against our policy, is irresponsible as it causes unnecessary distress to the women at Yarl’s Wood, their family and friends and those who work at the Centre to ensure the detainees are treated with respect.’

Queen’s University to honour Amartya Sen, Usain Bolti, others

New accreditation process singles out immigration lawyers