Refugees are not the criminals of nightmares

The women seeking asylum at Yarl’s Wood should be treated as human beings and not dangerous criminals


Yarl’s Wood is an immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire which houses adult women and family groups before deportation. The centre claims to pride itself on values such as “decency” and “respect”, but many of the women, already vulnerable due to conditions in their home country, are experiencing gross mistreatment. The situation in Yarl’s Wood reflects the UK’s selfish intolerance of immigrants and threatens human rights. The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, recently revealed that a large proportion of the women held at Yarl’s Wood sought asylum in the UK because of gender-based violence in their home country. Many are victims of trafficking, torture, or sexual abuse, and under Home Office regulations, should not be detained due to their fragile state.

To make matters worse, some officers at the centre have been charged with sex offences against the detainees. Margaret, a woman who was gang-raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the UK only to come straight to Yarl’s Wood, where she is “watched by men and women night and day” and feels ashamed of her situation. This is an unacceptable environment for vulnerable women to be kept in. It is unjust that these women escaped their home countries to flee sexual violence only to meet with it in their supposed asylum. Further threats to the human rights of these women include indefinite incarceration, unlawful punishment rooms, and poor access to health services, all of which put Article 3 of the Human Rights Act at risk. If these women must be detained, the Home Office should at least have the decency to detain them in humane conditions. Just because it has been decided that they are no longer welcome in this country does not mean a blind eye can be turned to their suffering. The Home Office has a responsibility for these people, at least as long as they are on British soil.

Furthermore, a watchdog report has revealed that two thirds of the women held at immigration removal centres across the UK are later released back into the community. This raises the question of whether their detainment was justified in the first place and makes the Home Office look as if it is cutting corners in order to cull the number of immigrants and asylum seekers. Most of these women have not even committed a crime, so why must they be detained? They pose no threat to the country, apart from the unfounded suggestion that immigrants steal jobs or sit on benefits. They should be allowed to live in the UK normally before their deportation.

Belgium adopts a softer approach, whereby returning asylum seekers are placed in ‘return houses’ and given access to ‘coaches’ on aspects such as legal advice and counselling. The mistreatment in the UK is unnecessary and can only be seen as an example of the hypocritical intolerance of immigrants in our Brexit culture.

The government is clearly guilty of misconduct in Yarl’s Wood, as Diane Abbott wrote to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, for over a year before she was granted access to the centre. Abbott’s visit finally took place last week and she said, as a result of speaking with a group of detainees and seeing their conditions, that “the women of Yarl’s Wood are desperate and we owe them a duty of care.” At the time of her visit, around 120 women were on hunger strike against indefinite detainment and for improved conditions. A hunger strike is a serious call for help. Change is essential.

The least the government can do for immigrants and asylum seekers who have faced incredible hardship is to treat them with respect while they are in the UK, a country which claims to foster human rights. However, the dire situation in Yarl’s Wood shows that we do not even have to look beyond our own borders to see intolerance and injustice. How can the UK claim to have the authority to help other countries where human rights are threatened, if they are not even protected on our own soil.

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