The Chief Inspector of Prisons report into Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, published today, includes some extremely worrying findings.
Yarl’s Wood holds hundreds of immigration detainees, the vast majority are women, and amongst them are women who have come to the UK seeking asylum.
These are among the most vulnerable women in the country, who may have fled terrible violence abroad only to find themselves locked up in Yarl’s Wood as a result of a hostile and complex asylum system which fails to recognise their protection needs.
Detention is meant to be used “sparingly” and for the “shortest period necessary” but many people are held for months or even years until they can be returned to their own country or released back into the community. This report found that 15 women had been detained for more than six months and six had been there for more than 10 months.
Eight of the women in Yarl’s Wood at the time of the inspection were pregnant. Pregnant women are only supposed to be detained in exceptional circumstances yet the inspection found that evidence of these ‘exceptional circumstances’ was ‘insufficient’ or ‘unclear’. We’re shocked by this.
Women seeking asylum have extremely poor maternal health outcomes and are highlighted as an exceptionally vulnerable group in health policy.
Detention inevitably interrupts a woman’s access to maternity care and is highly likely to cause her significant distress: this has implications for the health of both mother and baby. Pregnant women should not be detained under any circumstances.
In a predominantly female establishment, the report highlights that there are as many male staff as female. This cannot be right.
But most disturbing are the widely reported complaints about staff walking into women’s rooms without waiting for permission from detainees. With accusations of sexual abuse in Yarl’s Wood still fresh in people’s minds, this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The report also shows that improvements have been made at Yarl’s Wood since the last inspection and gives clear recommendations about the need for further changes.
But for us, the solution is simple: detention should not be part of the asylum process. It is an inhumane response to people who have committed no crime who have simply fled their country in search of safety.