“This is the only option we are left with to express how we feel. We will not eat till we are free.” These are the words of 120 women currently on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood, protesting against the inhumane and unjust conditions in which they are detained.
Yarl’s Wood is one of the most notorious detention centres in the UK. It is used to hold some 400 people, mainly women, for “administrative purposes” related to their immigration status. These women are not criminals, and yet they are held – indefinitely – in an institution that is, for all intents and purposes, a prison.
– Zimbabwean woman, currently detained in Yarl’s Wood
Many of the detained are survivors of torture and sexual or gender-based violence, in contravention of the Home Office’s own “adults at risk” policy. A 2017 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found that “increasing numbers of women were being detained there despite professional evidence that they are victims of torture, rape and trafficking.” One woman, who is currently participating in the hunger strike, said that Home Office officials say that “they don’t detain asylum seekers and torture victims, but I can tell you this place would be more or less empty without them.”
A large number of women detained within Yarl’s Wood are asylum seekers, and therefore lack the right to work in the UK. However, they can work inside the centre – for £1 per hour. This money is often spent on phone credit, to contact a solicitor, or sanitary products – available from the shop inside Yarl’s Wood for inflated prices – to replace the brick-like pads that are distributed as standard.
This abhorrent arrangement would be classed as illegal were it happening elsewhere in the UK. But the usual rules don’t apply to detainees, who are currently exempt from minimum wage legislation. It is little wonder that women in Yarl’s Wood feel that they have “been removed to a place with different laws”: in this respect, and many others, they have.
Having received no response from the Home Office after three days, the women’s hunger strike was expanded to a full strike on Monday 26th February. “We will cease to participate in detention,” said a statement published by Detained Voices. “We will not eat, use their facilities or work for them. The detainees are thus staging an all out strike to protest the Home Office’s continued immoral practices.”
We support the protesters and their demands, and stand with them in denouncing the UK’s inhumane and fundamentally unjust indefinite detention system.
The demands are simple, but their significance huge – and you can help. Show your solidarity by signing the petition, sharing solidarity photos, or writing to your MP and setting forth the demands of the strikers. Together, we can end the UK’s inhuman and unjust detention practices.
The demands, as published on Detained Voices:
“Our demands are for a fair system and an end to the hostile environment policy towards people with legitimate reasons to remain in the U.K.
- We want an end to indefinite detention and a return to the original plan of the 28 day limit.
- We want the Home Office to respect Article 8 [the right to a private and family life].
- We want the Home Office to respect the European Convention of Human Rights regarding refugees and asylum seekers.
- We want the Home Office to respect due process and stop deporting people before their cases are decided or appeals are heard.
- We want due processes before we are imprisoned on immigration matters.
- We want a fair bail process and the Home Office to end the process of selective evidence disclosure to the immigration tribunal courts and instead disclosure of all evidence to ensure a fair judgement is reached.
- We want adequate healthcare and especially the mental health nurse to stop operating as an extension of the Home Office asking people such questions as, “did you know you were going to stay in the UK when you entered?”
- We want the Home Office to stop detaining the vulnerable people, that is victims of rape, that is torture, all forms of torture, trafficking, forced labour, the disabled, the mentally ill and so on.
- We want amnesty for all people who have lived in the UK for more than 10 years and an end to the exiling of those who came as children and are culturally British.
- We want an end to the Home Office’s of employing detainees to do menial work for £1 per hour, it prays on the vulnerable and forces them to participate in their own detention.
- We want an end to charter flights and the snatching of people from their beds in the night and herding them like animals…
This [hunger strike] is the only option we are left with to express how we feel. We will not eat till we are free.”
Detained Voices will continue to publish updates from the strikers and other detainees.