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Yarl's Wood immigration centre’

Report reveals breaches of UK government policy stating survivors of sexual violence should not be detained

Severely traumatised survivors of sexual violence are being routinely locked up at the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, in breach of the UK government’s own policies.

A year ago, in response to widespread concerns about immigration detention, the Home Office introduced a new “adults at risk” policy, which stated that people most likely to be harmed by detention, including women who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence, should not normally be locked up.

But research by the charity Women for Refugee Women, released on Wednesday, shows this policy is not working in practice.

Women for Refugee Women interviewed 26 women, all of whom had sought asylum and been detained at Yarl’s Wood after the new policy came into force. The research found that of these 26 women:

- 22 were survivors of sexual or gender-based violence, including forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced prostitution.
- 23 had been detained for more than a month.
- All said they were depressed in detention.
- Almost half had thought about killing themselves in detention, and two had attempted suicide.

More than 1,500 women who are seeking asylum are locked up in immigration detention centres every year, often for indefinite periods and without knowing when they will be released.

Vivian (not her real name), from West Africa, was held in Yarl’s Wood despite disclosing in her asylum interview with the Home Office that she had been forced into prostitution by her husband. The Home Office accepted she was a survivor of gender-based violence, yet Vivian was still detained for six months.

“I wasn’t really sleeping or eating at all, and I was having flashbacks about what had happened to me,” she said. “Sometimes it felt like I was suffocating, as if the walls were closing in. I had thoughts about killing myself.” She was released in August 2017 to continue with her asylum claim.

Campaigners maintain that detention at Yarl’s Wood is not just inhumane but also inefficient and unnecessary. The new report shows that, in 2016, just 15% of asylum-seeking women leaving detention were removed from the UK; the other 85% were released into the community to continue with their claims.

Research has shown that countries that do not use detention are just as efficient at staying in touch with asylum seekers and enforcing immigration controls.

The adults at risk policy, introduced in September 2016, states that victims of sexual and gender-based violence should not normally be detained. It also states that if a woman’s vulnerability becomes clear in detention, she should not normally remain locked up.

The research suggests there is no screening process that actively identifies the vulnerabilities of women before they are detained. If women disclose their experiences of abuse after detention, they often remain locked up.

“When the Home Office put in place the new policy that recognised that vulnerable women should not be locked up, we were hopeful that we might see real change,” said Natasha Walter, founder of Women for Refugee Women.

“The findings of our research are hugely disappointing. Women who have already survived violence and abuse are still being locked up in immigration detention. Detention is traumatic for individual women, and it is also unnecessary, expensive and inefficient,” she added.

“We need to move away from detention and build a fair asylum process in which cases are heard and resolved while refugees are living in the community, so that they are able to start rebuilding their lives.”

Caroline Spelman, the Conservative MP for Meriden, said: “It is vital to have a transparent process to ensure that vulnerable women are protected in detention, and Home Office policy needs to be properly implemented and monitored.”

Kate Osamor, the Labour MP for Edmonton and the shadow international development secretary, said: “The government needs a much more humane approach that offers alternatives to detention and assists refugees rather than treating them like criminals.”

Yarl’s Wood has been the subject of a number of complaints by detainees. Just a few months ago, the Home Office was forced to admit it had acted unlawfully and breached the rights of a Kenyan asylum seeker by locking her up in segregation in a so-called “punishment room” for too long while she was in detention.

Earlier this year, a disabled victim of trafficking complained she had been forced into a waist restraint belt and dragged along “like a goat” when the Home Office tried to remove her from the UK.

Two years ago, an independent report found Yarl’s Wood was holding vulnerable women for too long in conditions that caused them serious distress and were unsuitable for people with mental health problems.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Detention is an important part of our immigration system, helping to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK are returned to their home country if they will not leave voluntarily.

“We operate on a presumption against detention, and the adults at risk policy aims to improve our approach to identifying individuals who may be particularly vulnerable to harm in detention. When people are detained this is for the minimum time possible, and the dignity and welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance.”

Case study: ‘I had started to hear voices’

Voke (not her real name), from West Africa, was forced into prostitution by her stepfather and managed to escape to the UK after enduring many years of abuse. The Home Office accepted the medical report carried out in detention that showed Voke was a victim of gender-based violence, but kept her in Yarl’s Wood.

She attempted suicide twice, but was detained for just under eight months, until October 2017, when her solicitor challenged the detention through judicial review and forced the Home Office to release her.

“After I had been in detention for seven months, I couldn’t see the point of my life any more, and I told healthcare that was how I was feeling,” she said. “But even when I told them how I had started to hear voices, telling me to end my life, they still didn’t help me.

“So I tried to kill myself. I just felt like my life had been taken away from me. It was at the weekend, so they put me on constant supervision and told me I would see a doctor in a couple of days. The next day, after they had stopped watching me, I tried again. In the days after I tried to kill myself, I didn’t see a doctor at all.

“It was such a relief to get out of there, but I don’t understand why they had to put me through it at all. I hope I will start to feel better soon, but I will never forget Yarl’s Wood.”

Fonte: The Guardian - 01/11/2017

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