Handling of female asylum seekers ‘puts UK to shame’

 

The hidden plight of women asylum seekers detained in Britain is exposed today as a major new report warns that female rape and torture victims are being locked up indefinitely, suffering from depression and being intimidated by male guards.

The claims will refocus the spotlight on the treatment of vulnerable women in Britain's detention centres. Almost 2000 women who sought asylum were detained in 2012, according to new Home Office figures compiled for charity Women for Refugee Women (WRW). Only a little over a third were removed from the UK.

The new research, undertaken by WRW, focused on 46 women, who were either in detention or had recently been detained. It found that 85 per cent of them had been raped or tortured before reaching Britain. This is contrary to government policy which says torture victims should only be detained in 'exceptional' circumstances.

Most were housed in Yarl's Wood, Britain's largest Immigration Removal Centre, in Bedfordshire, which can house up to 400 women. More than 90 per cent of women said they felt depression.  One in five said they tried to kill themselves in detention, while a third had been placed on suicide watch. One 33-year-old Ethiopian woman, who was three months pregnant during her time in detention, described detention as a place “where human rights don't exist.”

More than 70 per cent of women said they had been raped in their home countries, but the majority said they were guarded by male staff. Seven in ten said this made them uncomfortable; with some complaining that men watched them in the shower, on the toilet and came into their room without knocking. Male staff are not meant to supervise women showering, dressing or undressing.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC told The Independent that the findings should be a “source of profound shame” to Britain. She said women faced a “culture of disbelief” when they shared tales of sexual abuse. “This is part and parcel of a much wider form of misogyny - where we think women make up accounts of being raped,” she added. “On top of experiences of persecution, they experience being disbelieved and marginalised in the very place they seek help and assistance.”

One in two women said a member of staff in detention had verbally abused them, according to the report, while three women said they were physically assaulted. One woman in Yarl's Wood, who spoke to the media last year, lodged a formal complaint after alleging she was sexually assaulted by guards.

Natasha Walter, founder of Women for Refugee Women said women should live in the community, not detention centres, while asylum claims are considered. “We should not be putting women who have already survived such trauma through further trauma in the UK asylum process,” she added. “Detention is costly for the British taxpayer and extremely distressing for women.”

Forty per cent of the 1,867 women who had sought asylum and left detention in 2012, had been detained for more than a month, according to Home Office figures.  In WRW's sample, the average was nearly three months.

Almost twenty per cent of the women WRW interviewed said they fled persecution based on sexual orientation. Alice (not her real name), is a 26-year-old lesbian who says she was arrested and sexually assaulted in prison in Cameroon. She was sent to Yarl's Wood last year and put on suicide watch. “I burnt myself badly on my arm with hot water and saw other women do similar things - using forks to stab themselves and drinking whole bottles of shampoo in an attempt to kill themselves… I would honestly die rather than go back to Yarl's Wood,” she said.

Actress Juliet Stevenson, who has been actively involved in campaigning for the rights of asylum-seekers, said immigration and asylum  is currently “being lumped together in one conversation,” so “that no distinction is made between people who have fled great adversity, and migrants who do have a choice about whether they come to this country or not.”

She added: “I hope that by telling some of the stories of women in detention we can begin to break through that frenzy, and remind people that these women are individuals whose voices need to be heard.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said detention and removal are “essential parts of effective immigration controls. It is vital these are carried out with dignity and respect and we take the welfare of our detainees very seriously.” A comprehensive complaints system is offered and is thoroughly investigated, she added.

Case study: Cameroonian playwright

Lydia Besong, a Cameroonian playwright, was detained in Yarl’s Wood twice after her and her husband’s request for asylum was refused.

(Aliya Mirza) (Aliya Mirza)
“When I was in prison I suffered a lot. I was tortured. If you look at my legs you will see the scars. It is very hard for a woman to say that she has been raped.

”When I arrived in the UK with my husband, I thought that I would be safe [but] I was refused asylum. The Home Office just said that they didn’t believe me. Being locked up reminded me so much of being put in prison back home, it brought back all the memory of torture.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m in a trance, I hear the footsteps of the officers, I hear the banging of the doors and the sound of their keys. I wish the politicians could understand what they are doing to women by detaining us like this when we have already been through so much. ”Asylum-seekers are not criminals."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us