Women held in detention at the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre say they are treated like “animals”, according to a hard-hitting report which outlines allegations of routine bullying and sexual abuse against female inmates.
The report by Women for Refugee Women (WFRW), released today, reveals that women at the centre, in Bedfordshire, are denied basic privacy and are routinely stared at by male members of staff while they are naked or using the toilet.
Many are subjected to racist abuse, it adds, and a number have complained of being physically or sexually assaulted by staff at the centre, Britain’s largest detention facility for women facing deportation.The report draws on the experiences of 38 women detained at Yarl’s Wood between June 2012 and October 2014.
Most of the women said they had been raped or suffered other sexual violence before coming to Britain. Twenty-nine said that they were bullied by a member of staff; and 25 complained of racist treatment during their time at Yarl’s Wood, it says.
Six women claimed staff had made sexual suggestions and three alleged they were touched sexually. Seven reported being physically assaulted.
More than 2,000 women seeking asylum were put into detention in 2013 alone.
Being detained also has a damaging effect on mental health – more than half of those interviewed were on suicide watch, while 40 per cent said that they self-harmed while at Yarl’s Wood.
One interviewee said: “They spoke to me as if I was an animal, not a human being.” Another is quoted as saying: “There shouldn’t be Yarl’s Wood at all, it is not a place for humans at all.” And one woman says: “The scars of physical torture, from my country, you can see. The psychological scars from detention here, you can’t see, but they will last forever.”
The report calls for an end to the detention of women seeking asylum. Natasha Walter, director of WFRW, said: “This report shows that survivors of sexual violence who come to the UK seeking protection are routinely being locked up and are denied privacy and dignity in detention despite Home Office claims to the contrary.”
She added: “The behaviour of staff, particularly male staff, in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, is adding to the trauma of survivors of sexual violence.”
There have been numerous allegations of sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood, which has been run by Serco since 2007. And the report states that last June, Serco admitted it had “dismissed 10 staff in relation to eight separate cases, out of 31 which had been investigated over the last seven years.”
Dr Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “We urge the Government to take the brave step of acknowledging that centres like Yarl’s Wood are an affront to justice, and should be closed immediately.”
The Independent revealed last week how several thousand men, women and children are in detention at any one point in Britain each year, in what campaigners have condemned as a “black hole at the heart of British justice.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The allegations in this report are uncorroborated – so we have invited WFRW to supply details of the cases so they can be investigated fully.”
Norman Abusin, Serco’s Contract Director at Yarl’s Wo od, said: “These allegations… contradict Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, who found Yarl’s Wood to be a safe and respectful place… Our first concern is always for the safety and wellbeing of all the residents.”