An independent watchdog has backed growing calls for an end to indefinite detention following its annual report into Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre.
In its 2014 Annual Report the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at Yarl’s Wood expressed grave concerns about the harmful impact of indefinite detention on people’s mental health and has called for urgent reform.
The IMB also revealed that in 2014, 68 women were detained at Yarl’s Wood for more than six months and one woman was detained for 800 days before being released.
The Board also highlighted a growing trend of people with mental health problems being detained and noted that despite Home Office guidance stating that pregnant women should not normally be detained; at any one time 10-20 pregnant women were locked up inside Yarl’s Wood.
The IMB reported that detention placed pregnant women under ‘intolerable stress’ and was utterly futile as the vast majority were eventually released into the community.
Worryingly, the IMB reveals that healthcare services within Yarl’s Wood are understaffed and poorly managed, with midwives being temporarily barred from coming onsite and people being unable to access dental care for three months.
As well as recommending a time limit on detention is introduced, the IMB has called for greater use of alternatives to detention. According to the Board, detention should be used sparingly and only when removal is inevitable and imminent.
Refugee Council Women’s Advocacy Manager Anna Musgrave said: “Many of the women at Yarl’s Wood came to Britain because they thought they’d be safe here, but instead of treating them with compassion and dignity, they find themselves thrown behind bars, possibly indefinitely.
“Women in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable with many likely to be victims of sexual violence so we’re horrified to hear that healthcare and counselling services are inadequate.
“It’s particularly disturbing that officials are not even following current policy and pregnant women are being detained without any clear reason. Pregnant women with insecure immigration status already have high risk pregnancies and we believe they should not be detained under any circumstances. There is absolutely no excuse for compromising the health and well being of a mother and her baby.
“It’s high time Yarl’s Wood and places like it were closed. Seeking asylum is a human right, not a crime.”