SERCO and United Kingdom Border Agency DISGRACE!!!
Over the last few months a growing number of women detainees have been organising in Yarl’s Wood immigration Removal Centre to support each other, demand their fundamental rights and fight for their freedom in collaboration with outside supporters. They made contact with the Movement for Justice (MFJ) and established an MFJ group in the Centre.
On October 15th an attempt to deport Ugandan Christine Nankya, 28, was made. Christine had escaped to England nine years ago after facing serial sexual and violent abuse from her father since she was a young teenager. In her later teenage years she gave birth to her father’s son. This and the ordeal of being homeless in Britain for a length of time had left her mentally fragile. Before the attempted deportation she had made an attempt to end her life and was placed on suicide watch.
According to eye witness accounts Christine had ended up naked in the struggle to remove her from the immigration centre, with only a towel to cover herself, she was then dragged by five to six guards past fellow inmates. Soon after the Movement for Justice Women’s group held an emergency meeting, they read out their demands and added the additional demand to return Christine.
120 or 130 women attended the meeting. People from Africa, the Middle East, south Asia and the Caribbean (there are getting on for 400 detainees in Yarl’s Wood, but that includes the induction unit – Crane House – and Hummingbird House which is the family unit and has men in it). A woman called Shazia translated the proceedings into Hindi and Urdu for other Indian and Pakistani detainees. The demands were also submitted to the management of the detention centre and to the UKPA.
The demands include both the general –freedom from detention, and an end to Fast Track and deportations – and the more ‘immediate’, such as uncensored Internet access to be able to prepare their cases, not having guards present when they have medical consultations or examinations, no more male guards barging unannounced and uninvited into their rooms. The MFJ held a demonstration in their support and handed in petitions at the Home Office in Marsham Street, Westminster, last month and called another at the UKBA HQ in Croydon on 17 October; they also held an emergency demonstration at the Home Office on 23 October following the most recent repression and will be there again on 31 October at 2.00pm.
Christine was able to resist being deported although she suspects that she was injected by a tranquilizer at one point. After that she was refused entry to two other immigration holding centres before being taken back to Yarl’s Wood immigration Removal Centre. The UKBA did not want to give the impression that the inmate campaign group had won.
The UKBA refused to respond to the MFJ groups demands, so two hundred women went to the UKBA office, they were locked in the corridors and prevented from reaching their destination to get the answers sought. They were then subject to body searches by the prison guards, the women began to refuse, so they were kept in the corridor for five hours without access to toilets or water.
Since these events, searches, arbitrary lock downs, people put into isolation, aggressive violent behavior and harsher attitudes of guards have been noted. One of the Muslim asylum seekers affiliated with the group has been denied the opportunity to pray and has been told being affiliated with the group will count against her asylum bid. A number of the group had been put into isolation in Kingfisher House and were not allowed any access to communications from friends. This happened after a member called Aderonke Apataon gave an interview on BBC Radio 3.
The current situation of the women taken to Kingfisher House is as follows:
Aderonke Apata has been in Kingfisher all week and is now being moved to Styal Prison in Manchester. Sarah Najjuma is in Holloway Prison, London. Mya Fore is believed to be in Peterborough Prison. Abala Bello is in Holloway Prison. Eunice Williams is believed to be in jail in Nottingham. Sophine Barnet was released from Kingfisher on Monday. Shazia Aslam has been released from Kingfisher. Clarine & Shernette have both been released from Kingfisher
Sophine, Shazia, Clarine and Shernette have not been returned to their former units but are now in the supposedly short-stay induction unit, Crane House. Christine Nankya has also been moved to Crane House. The purpose is clearly to minimize their contact with the other longer-term detainees.
The Movement for Justice believes there is now an urgent need for a full, open and independent Public Inquiry into the national disgrace that is Yarl’s Wood Immigration removal Centre. Current and former detainees must be free to give evidence and any attempt to deport them would constitute deliberate ‘destruction of evidence’ by the UKBA. Witnesses must have a public guarantee that they will not be victimised or suffer reprisals for the evidence they give.