People from across the UK descend upon the notorious Immigration Removal Centre
Up to 700 people took part in a protest demanding the immediate closure of notorious Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre yesterday, Saturday 6th June.
Among them were actresses Juliet Stevenson and Romola Garai, both of whom joined Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Liberty director Shami Chakraberti in condemning the unit following years of controversy.
After speakers had addressed the rally protesters formed a human chain around the perimeter fence in a show of solidarity with the 400 mainly female detainees locked inside.
The detention centre was dubbed an “abomination,” by speakers and protesters alike, with many demanding that it be closed immediately
On twitter #SetHerFree, closely associated with the unit, began trending as people from around the globe joined the protest via social media.
Actress, Romola Garai, said: “If any woman I know had seen what I saw when I went to visit Yarl’s Wood detention centre I believe they wouldn’t be able to walk away feeling neutral about it.
“depressed and suicidal”
“It’s so obviously wrong, the women detained are in such distress and very afraid.”
Outsourced to Serco in 2007 the centre has been dogged by accusations of racism, violence and sexual abuse by staff, while while the detention of pregnant women has been roundly condemned by human rights and prison reform groups.
Despite having committed no crime the so called “residents” of Yarl’s Wood are detained against their will, some indefinitely as immigration case backlogs continue to grow.
Supporting the protest was 21 year old Meltem Avcil who along with her mother was taken to Yarl’s Wood in 2007 aged just 13 and after being resident in the UK since age 6. Both herself and her mother were later granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
A petition hosted by campaigning website, Change.org, has already topped 100,000 signatures. The petition, started by Avcil herself will ask the Home Secretary to end the detention of women seeking asylum.
“If a woman has already experienced rape, torture, imprisonment in her home country,” says Avcil, “then it is really hard for her to be locked up here; women become depressed and suicidal in detention.”
Yarl’s Wood came under renewed scrutiny earlier this year after Channel 4 News went undercover to film conditions and attitudes within the centre.
” Let them slash their wrists” says guard
The report, which called Yarl’s Wood “Britain’s most notorious and secretive immigration centre,” officers were caught on camera referring to detainees as animals.
One officer is heard to say: “They’re all animals. Caged animals. Take a stick with you and beat them up. Right?” while another says: “They are all slashing their wrists apparently. Let them slash their wrists.”
The programme also highlighted issues with health care provision after a heavily pregnant woman lost her child when staff waited for 3.5 hours to call an ambulance after she had presented with abdominal pain and bleeding.
The report went on to highlight numerous issues, including male staff watching female detainees while naked and rising incidents of self harm among the population.
Earlier this year Home Office Minister, Lord Bates, assured parliament that Yarl’s Wood had seen zero cases of self harm or attempted suicide over the last two years.
However, a Freedom of Information request showed 74 serious incidents had taken place in 2013 alone.
In the wake of revelations by Channel 4 and continued complaints concerning misconduct, Serco has commissioned an independent review of its procedures and one staff member has been suspended.
A spokesman for the Home Office, which commissioned another independent review in March of this year, said: “The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance — we will accept nothing but the highest standards from companies employed to manage the detention estate.”
For more on this story visit #ShutYarlsWood #SetThemFree #SetHerFree