They are protesting inhumane conditions and Home Office immigration policies at the notorious detention centre
Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre has long been infamous for its indefinite detention of women seeking asylum in the UK. Since Wednesday, 120 women detained have been on hunger strike to protest the issues they say they are facing – from the “detention of people who came to the UK as children” to “systematic torture”.
The website Detained Voices, which has contact with women inside Yarl's Wood, said they went on strike on Wednesday morning at breakfast time and intended to finish the hunger strike after three days – meaning the strike should have been broken this morning. However, a blog post published today says that the women have collectively decided to go forward with the hunger strike because they “want the public to know what we face and make sure there is a change in policy”.
The website lists 15 demands they are hoping will be met by the Home Office – the government department responsible for immigration. A written letter, circulated by Detained Voices on social media, says that the detainees believe the Home Office is “overwhelmed, not fit for purpose and operates in a rogue manner” and highlights the fact that “victims of torture, human trafficking, modern slavery, asylum seekers and sick and disabled people continue to be detained”.
It alleges that transgender inmates have had their hormone treatments discontinued and that health care within the centre is inadequate. In December, The British Medical Association called for Immigration Removal Centre's like Yarl's Wood to be phased out, in part due to their concerns over health care.
In a Detained Voices blog post written during the hunger strike, a detainee explained that the first day of the strike was a “great success” but the second less successful as officers at the centre were attempting to “dissuade people from taking part” and some women became afraid that participation in the protest would affect their individual cases.
The detainee said that in addition to the hunger strike, from Monday 26 February a “core group of activists will not work for £1 an hour”. Detainees are currently exempt from minimum wage legislation that operates in the UK, although last year it was reported that their “slave labour” pay rate was being legally challenged.
The post went on: “We are not your guests, we are your captives whom you choose when to detain and when to release and when to deport”.
A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: “Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls, especially in support for the removal of those with no lawful basis to stay in the UK.
“We take the welfare of our detainees very seriously and any detainees who choose to refuse food and fluid are closely monitored by on site healthcare professionals.”
On Friday, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott visited Yarl's Wood alongside fellow Labour MP and human rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti.
It reportedly took over a year for the Home Office to grant her access to the centre, despite repeated requests. On Twitter, Abbott said she was “truly moved” by the stories she heard and “deeply concerned about how desperate the women were, their medical care and how long some have been detained”.
A Twitter thread from Detained Voices gave more insight into the meeting, explaining that the women gave her a list of demands to take to parliament, and that they were “crying” while they told their stories.
One tweet read: “I want to say to Diane Abbott that we have been waiting for that moment. That she was indeed a shoulder, the only shoulder we have, to cry on. They should act on all the demands we have made. They are all critical.”