Separated from children, 80 women at Yarl’s Wood go on hunger strike

Police called in to the Yarl’s Wood centre

10th February 2010
: It’s getting worse at the immigration centers, apparently. It now emerges as many as 80 mothers detained at a centre after being separated from their children have gone on a hunger strike in protest.

The incident has resulted in the police being called in to the Yarl’s Wood centre in Bedfordshire. The women are said to be put their foot down against their detention and conditions.

In fact, a statement released by a group called ‘Women behind the Wire @ Yarl’s Wood IRC’ said the hunger strike began on Friday.

Women behind the Wire has all along been urging for putting to an end the detention of children and their mothers, rape survivors and other torture victims. They have also called for an end to the detention of physically or mentally sick people and pregnant women for long periods.
The group also wants an end to forceful removal and deportation of detainees and detention for asylum seekers and torture victims.

During the incident, several protesters were reportedly separated from the other detainees. They were, rather, held back in a lobby or corridor for several hours after they expressed desire to speak to officials. One of the detainee at the centre for three months without her two children claimed about 80 or so women were compelled to spend at least six hours shut in a hallway.

Giving details, the woman said they came in here quietly and asked for a dialogue with the immigration people, as they wanted an explanation why they had to be detained for so long.

She said it was getting cold in the hallway; they were without water, food and toilet facilities. Women were left with no alternative, but to go to the toilet in the same room they had been locked up in.

She claimed five women fainted. There was urine everywhere, it was disgusting and smelly.

The woman claimed her children were being looked after by her sister in Kilburn, north-west London, and she could only see them once a fortnight when they come and visited her.

Reacting to the developments, policy adviser at the Children’s Society Lisa Nandy, and director of Bail for Immigration Detainees Celia Clarke said in a joint statement they were concerned about the reports they had received from the detainees in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre that there has been a disturbance that has resulted in the police being called.

The two said they understand a number of women were protesting against their enforced separation from their children and were extremely distressed; and urged the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to ensure the safety of all the women involved in the protest.

The UKBA, on the other hand, said the detainees would be integrated back into the centre at the earliest opportunity.

David Wood, strategic director of the UKBA’s criminality and detention group, said around 40 women at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre were protesting against their detention and have been separated from other detainees, as the staff is trying to resolve concerns raised by these individuals.

‘The well-being of detainees was of paramount concern to the UK Border Agency, which was why healthcare staff were at the scene to monitor developments.

All the detainees were treated with dignity and respect, with access to legal advice and healthcare facilities.

Bedfordshire Police spokeswoman said the Police were called in by staff at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre at 1.30 pm following reports of minor disorder involving a small number of detainees.

‘The police helicopter flew over the area at lunchtime for assessment purposes but has since left.
Later, all detainees were described as calm and talking with Yarl’s Wood staff to address their concerns.

‘Police officers, including dog units, were on standby outside the perimeter fence of the compound and would not be involved unless requested directly.’


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