Mothers join hunger strike

Today 91 families, mainly single mothers with their children, some of whom have been detained for over three months, have joined the protest.

Mothers report that after 5pm their kids go hungry as there is no food available until 8am the next morning. Children can’t manage under such harsh conditions. Most can’t eat the meals provided because of the appalling quality and mothers worry that this is affecting their children’s health. Most children were born in Britain but their birth certificates have been confiscated by the immigration authorities. Women are also very concerned about the neglect of their children’s health. One woman whose son has a persistent cough has been told to give him water – she is desperately worried he may an infection, but no one will investigate his symptoms.

Women from the Family Unit are available for interview


Women in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre on hunger strike protesting against SERCO’s draconian regime. (5 May 2007)

Women in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre began a protest on Thursday night, following a threat by SERCO (the company which in April this year won a £87 million contract to run Yarl’s Wood) to introduce new measures. These include:

· Locking women up their rooms from 7pm – 7am
· Confiscating mobile phones which women rely on for contact with the outside world
· Cutting Sky News TV where women get information about the countries they fled

Women took to the corridors shouting “We won’t be locked up.” “Hands off our mobiles.” and made banners out of bed sheets saying “We want freedom.” “We demand Human Rights.” “We want justice.” Others have gone on hunger strike – including all the women on DOVE wing. Across the four different units almost 200 women took part in separate protests in their courtyards. Victoria Jones, SERCO director, dismissed the threats of changes in the regime as rumours but refused to speak to women.

SERCO is a security firm with fingers in many pies including defence, PFI hospitals, electronic tagging . . . It boasts that winning the Yarl’s Wood contract is a “testament to the high quality of service we already provide at Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre” – yet a series of hunger strikes and other protests by detainees against appalling health care, assaults and intimidation by guards, expose the lie in this.

A 2006 Legal Action for Women (LAW) investigation into Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, before SERCO took over, found that: 70% of women had reported rape, nearly half had been detained for over three months, a staggering 57% had no legal representation, and 20% had lawyers who demanded cash before taking action. Women reported sexual and racial intimidation by guards.”[1] LAW’s Self-Help Guide is now being confiscated by guards depriving women of information about their rights.

Since SERCO took over conditions have deteriorated. Women listed their demands over the phone.

Release from detention
 – some of us have been held for over two years.

No punishment or retribution against those protesting or on hunger strike.

Stop sabotaging our asylum claims. Vital faxes are withheld, staff refuse to allow us to fax information even to our lawyer or MP and confiscate legal rights information. 23 women signed a letter of protest at LAW’s Self-Help Guide being snatched from them during room searches or at other times. We are told “you are not supposed to have this in the centre”.

Our privacy should be respected. Male guards come into our rooms without warning, even when we don’t have clothes on. They search the room scattering our underwear.

An end to violence from staff especially when they take us to the airport. Women have been assaulted, handcuffed, drugged and beaten up. One woman was stripped naked and thrown in the van. The pilot refused to take her as she had no clothes.

Sexist and racist guards to be sacked – we are called ”black monkey” “nigger” and “bitch” and told “go back to your country”.

Stop stealing our money. We want an investigation into how money sent by relatives and supporters, which the authorities put into accounts, later disappeared.

We want our 71p daily allowance – it’s a pittance but we are entitled to it.

No profiteering – a pack of peanuts has gone up from 20p to 42p.

No fingerprinting of visitors – we’ve had less visits since this started.

A choice of sanitary pads – we are only given one type but for those of us with heavy periods they are not enough.

Better health care – whatever our complaint we just get an aspirin

Food we can eat. It is the same every day – days old re-heated jacket potatoes, uncooked rice, partially cooked fried eggs, food with hair, dirt and sometimes maggots in it. It’s rationed so we don’t get enough to eat -- one tin of sardines between three people – and the serving people are rude. UPDATE: On Bank Holiday Monday, one staff member on Avocet wing, told women they could not have a choice of food and that they had to eat what was given. When women demanded the right to choose, the staff threw food onto trays, onto the floor and even directly at some of the detainees. Women began to shout in protest. The Duty manager agreed to reopen the canteen, but the women refused to be served until the staff member was removed. She was.

The All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and Women Against Rape which are regularly contacted by women in Yarl’s Wood have found that in the last month the phone is regularly not answered and messages and faxes have gone astray. Gill Butler, chair of Yarl’s Wood Befrienders said that “since SERCO took over we are having to wait an inordinate amount of time - one and half hours or more - for detainees to be brought to the visits room, drastically cutting down the time we can spend with them.

Ruth Williams who has been detained for nearly six months said:

We are women like other women, who have suffered and been forced out of our countries by killing and other violence. We have committed no crime but are locked up without rights and terrorized by threats to send us back to the horrors we fled. We want our human rights.”

Cristel Amiss from BWRAP said

Vulnerable women, many of them traumatised survivors of rape and other torture are being abused in the most appalling way and have courageously decided to protest knowing from experience that they may face retribution. We can’t sit by. We call on all those in prominent positions, especially those concerned to defend women’s rights, to take action in support of women imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood.

Ms Williams and other women are available for interview please call BWRAP on 07980659831

[1] “A Bleak House for Our Times, Legal Action for Women