The Home Office has been accused of “shocking and inhumane abuse of process” after it told vulnerable women on hunger strike about conditions at a controversial detention centre they faced “accelerated” deportation if they continued to protest.
Last night the Home Office confirmed the letter, sent to all those on strike, told them their cases would not be halted or delayed by the protest. The documented added it “may, in fact, lead to your case being accelerated and your removal from the UK taking place sooner”.
More than 100 detainees in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre have been refusing to eat food in protest at the conditions, and have asked for the European Convention on Human Rights to be respected and due process to be followed. The women began their protest more than 10 days ago, and urged the Home Office to end “offensive” practices which they said left people “breaking down psychologically”.
David Lammy MP, a former justice minister, said the Home Office must answer urgent questions about “how these threats of accelerated deportation relate to due process, equal treatment under the law, and protections afforded to asylum seekers and refugees in immigration and human rights law”.
Mr Lammy said he would be raising the issue with the Home Secretary as a matter of urgency. He told The Independent: “I have long been of the view that the way that asylum seekers and refugees are treated in detention centres like Yarl’s Wood is inhumane and totally unacceptable in a civilised society. I am also deeply concerned about the wrongful detention of innocent people and potential breaches of human rights within our immigration system.”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said: “If this is true it is a complete abuse of due process, and Amber Rudd will have to answer for it in Parliament.”
Lucy Powell, Labour MP for Manchester Central, called the Home Office’s approach “shocking and inhumane”. She told The Independent: “The Home Office’s draconian tactics are just completely wrong. They would be better off focusing their energies on the many criminals that fall through the net rather than woman who have lived in this country for years who are just trying to live a good life. This is a shocking, inhumane abuse of process. Their actions are wrong, and MPs will be looking for ways to raise the issue in Parliament this week.”
The letter being sent to detainees by the Home Office follows The Independent yesterday revealing that 27-year-old hunger striker Opelo Kgari, who moved to the UK from Botswana when she was 13 years old, and her mum Florence narrowly avoided deportation.
The mother and daughter, who were admitted to Yarl’s Wood five weeks ago, were taken to Heathrow Airport on Saturday afternoon and told they were going to be deported that evening. Their lawyer and MPs temporarily halted the deportation with moments to spare. And it is understood that immigration minister Caroline Nokes intervened after they reached out for help. Natalie Clarkson, one of Opelo’s friends, told The Independent that she’d heard of another hunger striker being told this week that she was being deported to Delhi.
Ruth Smeeth, who is the local MP for Opelo and her mother, said the response to their peaceful protests had been extraordinary.
She told The Independent: “This is deeply harrowing. These women are following in the footsteps of the suffragettes, this is a peaceful protest and the response to this is extraordinary.
“If these protests are being used as justification to extradite these women, we have a serious issue going on both within Yarl’s Wood and the Home Office. I was delighted when the minister intervened to stop my constituents, Opelo and Florence, being deported. I will be contacting the minister and going from there.”
Caroline Lucas MP, the co-leader of the Green Party described the treatment as "shameful" and said it was time to stop the "repressive" detention system.
She said: "For the Home Office to now threaten hunger strikers with accelerated deportation isn't just morally wrong, it's legally questionable too. Ministers should retract these threats and begin treating people with dignity.
"The shameful treatment of detainees at Yarls Wood is a stain on our nation's conscience. It's time to dismantle the repressive detention regime and replace it with a humane and effective system that treats people with the dignity they deserve."
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