A new report from Women For Refugee Women (‘WFRW’) sheds a sickening light on the conditions for women asylum seekers detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC. 70 per cent of the women they interviewed that were guarded by men said that the very presence of male staff made them feel uncomfortable. They spoke about male staff bursting into their rooms when they were undressed or watching them going to the toilet.
One disclosed that she had been sexually abused in detention. Half had suffered verbal abuse from guards, three had been physically assaulted. One described seeing an old woman coming back from the airport with cuts and bruises to her face, saying she had been hit by the guards.
The report is a compelling collection and analysis of the voices of detainees themselves and has received some media interest (for example, in: The Courier; The Mirror; The Belfast Telegraph; and, The Independent).
In 2012, around 31 per cent of women who claimed asylum in their own right (rather than as dependants on someone else’s claim) were detained. That was 1902 out of 6071 women. The report explains how poor screening processes result in women being detained despite being victims of torture or human trafficking.
The poor quality of decision making in the Home Office has previously been criticised by UNHCR and continues through the process, with women’s experiences of persecution being particularly poorly understood. About 25 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women asylum applicants have their refusal overturned on appeal. The report shows that most of the sample (40 out of 43) had suffered gender-related persecution including rape, sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced prostitution, either by state authorities or against which state authorities failed to protect them.
The Detained Fast Track process was found to cause particular problems for women who had suffered sexual violence and found it impossible to disclose all the details, perhaps soon after arrival or after years of concealing their experiences, perhaps in front of male interviewers and interpreters.
According to the report, detention is enormously expensive, costing about five times as much as providing support to asylum applicants outside detention. On 4 February 2010, the Government reported in Parliament that the average overall cost of one bed per day in the immigration detention estate is £120 (included in these estimates are the costs incurred by incidents such as fires in IRCs and legal fees) (Hansard 2010).
Further, the report suggests that detention is not, in any case, particularly effective in its purported aim of assisting removal, since only 36 per cent of the women who had sought asylum and left detention in 2012 were removed from the UK. Almost two third were released into the community either with leave or to continue the application process. In this study, the average length of detention was two months and the range was three days to 11 months, with the UK one of the few countries in Europe refusing to implement a maximum length of detention.
The research shows that detention is expensive and ineffective, being over-used due to poor decision making in the Home Office and being carried out by G4S (and others) in ways that are abusive and damaging. The use of male staff to guard vulnerable women needs to stop; the abuse of privacy needs to stop; verbal, physical and sexual abuse of women needs to stop; and, the detention of asylum -seekers who pose no risk to the public needs to stop.
WFRW has exposed what’s happening. Now it’s up to you.