Woman detained in Yarl's Wood after calling police because ex-partner threatened to kill her, reveals MP

​MPs reveal plight of constituents sent to detention centre as immigration minister defends 'inhumane' letter threatening detainees on hunger strike with 'accelerated removal'

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 06 March 2018 19:58
Case of domestic violence victim sent to Yarl's Wood when she contacted the authorities for help raised in Parliament

A woman was detained in the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre after she called the police because her “violent ex-husband” had threatened to kill her.

The revelation comes days after the Home Office was accused of “shocking and inhumane abuse of process” in the facility.

The woman was reportedly flagged up to the Home Office and taken to the removal centre after she called the police for help.

Following intervention from her MP, Jess Phillips, the woman was removed from Yarl’s Wood and granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

Ms Phillips raised the matter in Parliament after Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott questioned the immigration minister Caroline Nokes about a letter sent to women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood, which said they faced “accelerated” deportation if they continued with the protest.

Ms Abbott said the letter, which was exclusively revealed by The Independent this weekend, amounted to a threat of “punitive deportations for women who dared to go on hunger strike”.

Confirming that the threat of accelerated deportation was part of official Home Office policy, Ms Nokes said it had been published online last November.

It “was agreed after consultation with NHS England, Medical Justice, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association and other NGOs”, she said.

Medical Justice, a charity that offers help to those held in detention centres across the UK, has since said that it was “highly critical” of the policy during the consultation.

Their views were “largely ignored”, it said.

A spokesperson told The Independent it was “disingenuous” for the Home Office to claim they had agreed on the policy.

During the debate, Ms Phillips disputed Ms Nokes’ claim that people are only detained when they are “at risk of absconding”.

She said she did not recognise it from immigration casework in her own constituency.

“A woman in my constituency rang the police because of a threat to kill her from a violent ex-husband. She was then taken to Yarl’s Wood – not to a place of safety,” she said.

“We detained a woman who was a victim.

“She has now been given indefinite leave to remain because her case was ongoing through the process. This is not an isolated case.”

The Labour MP went on to ask: “Does the Home Office think that it keeps vulnerable women, who are at risk of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse, safe by basically deterring them from calling the police because they will be sent to a detention centre?”

Ms Nokes replied that she would “always” want to look at such cases personally, but said MPs must remember that immigration policy “seeks to implement the rules as they are set out”.

Sheffield MP Gill Furniss then explained that a constituent of hers was detained in Yarl’s Wood with a serious eye condition.

“She was at risk of losing her eyesight,” she said, adding that it “had already left her blind in one eye, and if left untreated for any short amount of time risked her going blind in the other”.

Although Yarl’s Wood had been “made aware of this information she was left for some time before being seen by a nurse”, she said. “In the end my office had to intervene directly in order to ensure urgent medical assistance was provided to my constituent so as to avoid her losing her sight.

“This appalling case is one of many. Will the minister make an assessment and overall review of the conditions women in Yarl’s Wood are being subjected to?”

Ms Nokes replied that individuals are given access to a health professional within two hours of their arrival at the centre and then have the ability to make an appointment with the GP within 24 hours.

“It is really important that we provide healthcare to all of those in detention, which is why it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said.

Broader concerns were also raised during the debate that MPs were having to “resort to weekend telephone calls” in order to prevent their constituents from being wrongly removed from the country.

They focused particularly on the case of Opelo Kgari, who was served a deportation notice over the weekend along with her mother Florence, days after she spoke out to The Independent about Yarl’s Wood.

The 27-year-old, who came to the UK from Botswana when she was 13-years-old, narrowly escaped deportation following an intervention by MPs.

The pair were taken to Heathrow Airport on Saturday and told they were going to be deported on a flight at 8.15pm.

Labour MP Ed Davey, speaking on behalf of his colleague Ruth Smeeth, who intervened in the case as MP for the two women, questioned Ms Nokes on this matter.

“Would the minister agree that the fact that MPs have to resort to weekend telephone calls to speak directly to ministers to have constituents stopped from being deported before they’ve had their due process is a sign that the immigration system in this country simply is failing?” he asked.

Ms Nokes declined to comment on individual cases, but she insisted the Home Office does follow due process.