Yarl's Wood dentention protest update

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Jason Cortez
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May 14 2007 12:17
Yarl's Wood dentention protest update
Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) wrote:
URGENT YARL’S WOOD UPDATE, 11 May 2007

SERCO concedes to some demands but threatens to send one woman to Holloway Prison for protesting

Women have ended their hunger strike as a result of SERCO agreeing to some of their demands including: not locking women up their rooms from 7pm – 7am or confiscating their mobiles (see 5 May press release below). SERCO have also agreed to look into the missing money and to the restoration of the 71p daily allowance. TV News channels were briefly restored but were cut again last night.

But many of women’s other serious demands have been ignored including an end to: guards with-holding vital information for asylum claims; violent attacks; male guards going unannounced into women’s rooms and punishment or retribution against protesters.

One woman, Jacklyn Edwards, has been singled out as a “ringleader” and is being threatened with being put in Holloway Prison on Monday (14 May). According to Home Office and UNHCR Guidelines, as a rape survivor, she should never have been detained. The accusations against her – despite strong denials by many women detainees who witnessed what happened – are that she “incited other detainees” to go on hunger strike across three wings, threatened to kill a member of the catering staff and damaged the alarm system. Ms X says “they’ve locked me up and made false accusations against me. All I did was speak out against the injustices we are facing and now they want to silence me.”

Efforts to use Ms Edwards to discipline other women and force them to give up their demands for respectful treatment have been met with fury and determination. 27 women on Avocet have signed a letter protesting at her treatment. “If Jacklyn should be punished then all of us detainees should be punished because we were all involved in the protest and we all spoke out.” They refute the allegations against Ms Edwards, demand to see the evidence and confirm that “Detainees are ready to come forward as witnesses.”

Ms Edwards is seeking asylum from rape and other torture in Jamaica. A gang called the “Shower Posse” killed her three brothers. She suffered multiple rape by gang members, was knifed in the face, had acid poured on her and was left to die. Ms Edwards said: “Mercifully I survived and was able some years later to reach England and ask for asylum. My claim has been refused despite all my evidence – I’ve been told it’s safe to return, but just last week there was a big gunfight in the area I’m from in Kingston – the police only survived because they had protective jackets – we families don’t have any protection including from the police.”

PRESS RELEASE . . . PRESS RELEASE . . . PRESS RELEASE . . . PRESS
Women in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre on hunger strike protesting against SERCO’s draconian regime. (5 May 2007)

Women in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre began a protest on Thursday night, following a threat by SERCO (the company which in April this year won a £87 million contract to run Yarl’s Wood) to introduce new measures. These include:

• Locking women up their rooms from 7pm – 7am
• Confiscating mobile phones which women rely on for contact with the outside world
• Cutting Sky News TV where women get information about the countries they fled

Women took to the corridors shouting “We won’t be locked up.” “Hands off our mobiles.” and made banners out of bed sheets saying “We want freedom.” “We demand Human Rights.” “We want justice.” Others have gone on hunger strike – including all the women on DOVE wing. Across the four different units almost 200 women took part in separate protests in their courtyards. Victoria Jones, SERCO director, dismissed the threats of changes in the regime as rumours but refused to speak to women.

SERCO is a security firm with fingers in many pies including defence, PFI hospitals, electronic tagging . . . It boasts that winning the Yarl’s Wood contract is a “testament to the high quality of service we already provide at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre” – yet a series of hunger strikes and other protests by detainees against appalling health care, assaults and intimidation by guards, expose the lie in this.

A 2006 Legal Action for Women (LAW) investigation into Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, before SERCO took over, found that: 70% of women had reported rape, nearly half had been detained for over three months, a staggering 57% had no legal representation, and 20% had lawyers who demanded cash before taking action. Women reported sexual and racial intimidation by guards.”[1] LAW’s Self-Help Guide is now being confiscated by guards depriving women of information about their rights.
Since SERCO took over conditions have deteriorated. Women listed their demands over the phone.
• Release from detention – some of us have been held for over two years.
• No lock up – we’ve committed no crime.
• No punishment or retribution against those protesting or on hunger strike.
• Stop sabotaging our asylum claims. Vital faxes are withheld, staff refuse to allow us to fax information even to our lawyer or MP and confiscate legal rights information. 23 women signed a letter of protest at LAW’s Self-Help Guide being snatched from them during room searches or at other times. We are told “you are not supposed to have this in the centre”.
• Our privacy should be respected. Male guards come into our rooms without warning, even when we don’t have clothes on. They search the room scattering our underwear.
• An end to violence from staff especially when they take us to the airport. Women have been assaulted, handcuffed, drugged and beaten up. One woman was stripped naked and thrown in the van. The pilot refused to take her as she had no clothes.
• Sexist and racist guards to be sacked – we are called ”black monkey” “nigger” and “bitch” and told “go back to your country”.
• To keep our mobiles – it costs £3 for a 3 min call on the phone cards they sell us.
• Stop stealing our money. We want an investigation into how money sent by relatives and supporters, which the authorities put into accounts, later disappeared.
• We want our 71p daily allowance – it’s a pittance but we are entitled to it.
• No profiteering – a pack of peanuts has gone up from 20p to 42p.
• No fingerprinting of visitors – we’ve had less visits since this started.
• A choice of sanitary pads – we are only given one type but for those of us with heavy periods they are not enough.
• Better health care – whatever our complaint we just get an aspirin
• Food we can eat. It is the same every day – days old re-heated jacket potatoes, uncooked rice, partially cooked fried eggs, food with hair, dirt and sometimes maggots in it. It’s rationed so we don’t get enough to eat -- one tin of sardines between three people – and the serving people are rude. UPDATE: On Bank Holiday Monday, one staff member on Avocet wing, told women they could not have a choice of food and that they had to eat what was given. When women demanded the right to choose, the staff threw food onto trays, onto the floor and even directly at some of the detainees. Women began to shout in protest. The Duty manager agreed to reopen the canteen, but the women refused to be served until the staff member was removed. She was.
The All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and Women Against Rape which are regularly contacted by women in Yarl’s Wood have found that in the last month the phone is regularly not answered and messages and faxes have gone astray. Gill Butler, chair of Yarl’s Wood Befrienders said that “since SERCO took over we are having to wait an inordinate amount of time - one and half hours or more - for detainees to be brought to the visits room, drastically cutting down the time we can spend with them.”

Ruth Williams who has been detained for nearly six months said:
“We are women like other women, who have suffered and been forced out of our countries by killing and other violence. We have committed no crime but are locked up without rights and terrorized by threats to send us back to the horrors we fled. We want our human rights.”

Cristel Amiss from BWRAP said
“Vulnerable women, many of them traumatised survivors of rape and other torture are being abused in the most appalling way and have courageously decided to protest knowing from experience that they may face retribution. We can’t sit by. We call on all those in prominent positions, especially those concerned to defend women’s rights, to take action in support of women imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood.”

Ms Williams and other women are available for interview, please call BWRAP on 07980659831