Update: Following a wave of public outrage against the Home Office, social services and SERCO Ms Janipher Maseko, was told that she and her children are to be released.

Ms Janipher Maseko, aged 18, who had fled rape and violence in Uganda and sought asylum in the UK four years ago as an unaccompanied minor, contacted BWRAP on 18 May from Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre through a fax written with the assistance of other detained women whom BWRAP is helping. Ms Maseko was terrified that she would be deported without her newborn son and one-year-old daughter from whom she had been separated for about 10 days.

Through daily phone calls and co-ordinating with others at the detention centre who have helped, we have put together the basic facts of Ms Maseko’s ordeal. Ms Maseko’s asylum claim had been closed in March 2007 when she was heavily pregnant. Hillingdon Social Services, responsible for her at the time, immediately stopped all support and evicted her and her baby daughter.[1][1] Staff at Hillingdon Hospital had to press Social Services to rehouse her. But at the end of April, a week after her son was born, Social Services evicted her again and threw away all her belongings. Ms Maseko tried to reach a friend in Brighton and was sleeping rough in Crawley when passers-by found her and called the police. Sussex Social Services put her babies into foster care even though she was breastfeeding her infant son and there was no cause to doubt her fitness and eagerness to care for her children – Ms Maseko needed shelter, money and healthcare. No arrangements were made to help her keep in touch with her children. Still bleeding after childbirth and with engorged breasts, Ms Maseko was held in a cell for four days without a shower or change of clothes.

Ms Maseko was taken to Yarl’s Wood. She was still given no change of clothes or toiletries. In great pain in her breasts and groin, and unable to sleep, she received no healthcare from SERCO, the multinational company running Yarl’s Wood. She wanted to breastfeed when her son was returned, but SERCO offered her no help to express her milk and maintain her milk production. This is not an isolated example of mistreatment – many other women are suffering under SERCO’s regime.

International Women Count Network (IWCN)[2][2] alerted breastfeeding organisations and lact-activists, midwives, health professionals, MPs, Lords and concerned individuals. We were greatly encouraged by the immediate and practical response of the breastfeeding sisterhood beginning with Sheila Kitzinger, whose compassion and dedication we have always been able to count on, Lesley Page, former Joint Head of Midwifery at St Thomas Hospital, and Morgan Gallagher, who started Nursing Matters to support breastfeeding mothers caught up in the asylum system, as well as Lord Avebury. This response included contacting the press, MPs and relevant officials, organising local breastfeeding support, writing letters, providing expert and background information, and sending Ms Maseko money to keep open her life line to BWRAP – her mobile phone. Condemnation of Ms Maseko’s treatment forced the authorities to reunite Ms Maseko and her traumatised children two weeks after they were taken. IWCN asked Alistair Burt MP, whose constituency includes Yarl’s Wood, to arrange for Ms Maseko to have the expert help she needed to resume breastfeeding. As a result Yarl’s Wood management agreed to allow one local designated person with relevant expertise to see her as needed. At the last minute the immigration authorities and SERCO reneged, asserting that SERCO would only provide “appropriate” support. Their contract is worth £87 million but they did nothing – one visitor was told “breastfeeding can wait”. Despite this, due to Ms Maseko’s determination and some timely advice before her children were returned, Ms Maseko’s breast milk is returning. She is, however, worried about her children‘s health and how they were cared for by Sussex Social Services – the daughter lost weight; the son didn’t grow – as well as the long-term effect of their traumatic forced parting from her.

On receiving the removal notice yesterday, Ms Maseko said: “They are only doing this to hide what happened and because of the support I have.” We are in contact with Ms Maseko and those who can assist her, in particular her new solicitor from Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, several times a day to ensure new information is passed on and acted on quickly. Her solicitor is submitting a Judicial Review to stop her removal.

We will not rest until Ms Maseko and her children are safe.

What you can do to support this work and ensure Ms Maseko and her children can build their lives in the UK:

  1. Urge that Ms Maseko and her children be immediately released, housed, supported and granted asylum, and that there be a prompt independent investigation into her treatment by SERCO and all those in authority who were responsible for her care. Fax or email your letter to:
  • Liam Byrne MP, Minister of State for Immigration, Nationality and Citizenship, Fax: 020 7035 4745 byrne.submissions@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
  • Meg Munn MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Women and Equality)

Fax: 020 7944 5891 munnm@parliament.uk

  • Beverley Hughes MP, Minister for Children, Young People & Families

Fax:020 7219 2961 hughesb@parliament.uk

  • Patricia Hewitt MP, Secretary of State for Health, Fax: 020 7210 5410.


  1. Alert your networks, the press and other media.
  2. Write to your MP as a concerned constituent asking her/him to raise it in Parliament.
  3. Send donations and/or offer other help – contact BWRAP for details.

Remember to copy your letter to us or fax it to 020 7209 4761