In a unique demonstration of solidarity, twenty detained women rallied at Yarl’s Wood to peacefully resist the forced removal of LN, an elderly Kenyan national who had claimed asylum in the UK.
The Habeas Corpus Project was informed of the incident on the 10th April 2015 and attended Yarl’s Wood to take statements from four of the detained protestors.
We can report that on Thursday the 9th of April the women gathered in the bedroom of a detainee, JL, surrounding LN and refusing requests to move.
Immigration officers were brought up to take individual pictures of the women in an attempt to threaten them; telling them that their actions would impact their immigration cases. As a result of these scare tactics some of the detainees left, leaving six women remaining in solidarity with LN.
According to a Home Office report of the incident, the decision was made in conjunction with Home Office Immigration Enforcement to ‘use PPE and appropriate teams to relocate LN to reception and highlighted residents who were non-compliant to Kingfisher unit.’
What this means is that around forty officers in full riot gear were summoned to the room and the adjacent corridor to forcefully remove LN and take the women gathered around her to solitary confinement.
Although the report states that ‘force was used for a short time using approved C&R Techniques’, we have testimony from a number of residents present that indicate that this was not the case.
One officer in particular was recognised by the women we spoke to. In their statements to us, the detainees described how this officer, a guard at Yarl’s Wood, used the sharp edge of his shield to batter the women who were sitting on the bed. They then lay on the bed in an attempt to protect their faces and necks and sustained injuries to their shins and ankles.
This is how one of the women related the event to us:
“Then he started with this shield. Me and [my friend], AR, lay down on the bed and put our legs up because I though he was going to get my face and my neck, and what’s going to happen then? I have bruises all over my legs. AR went to hospital.”
“When he started to beat me with his shield the two male officers came running in because they were scared. I heard other managers and officers start to shout to [this officer]: “You can’t do that – you can only push. You can’t beat them.” And then two officers, without shields, without nothing, came running into the room and took me and AR and dragged us out of the room because they were scared he was going too far.”
Another woman reported that there were three guards to each woman, and that they were pushed to the floor in a manner completely disproportionate to the threat they posed as peaceful protesters.
“Respect. Support. Commitment. That’s our Promise.” Those are the words you can find boldly written across the home page for Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, run by the private security company Serco. They read somewhat ironically in light of this most recent incident which has resulted in six detainees being sent to solitary confinement, two of whom remain there over a week later. These two have been informed that they will remain in solitary confinement until they have been transferred to prison. They have not yet been charged with any crime.
One of the women present involved has a bail hearing soon and is concerned that the incident will negatively impact her chances of being released from detention on bail. ‘We have been described as disruptive.’ she told us, ‘even though we weren’t doing anything. Just sitting and praying. Nobody was fighting. We were not even being disruptive in the first place, so why did they bring all the riot police?’
If the incident was escalated not by the residents of Yarl’s Wood, but by the guards, it would not be right to describe the resident as disruptive in a bail summary and yet the distinction will not be made.
The detainees in Yarl’s Wood are vulnerable women going through a very difficult time in their lives. Many of these women have experienced serious hardships in their lives so far, such as sexual abuse and torture. Serious depression and PTSD are common conditions among the residents, some of whom are even driven to attempt to end their lives whilst in detention.
The Home Office has a duty of care to these women which must not be taken lightly. Blatant bullying and abuse of power such as happened on the 9th of April must not be tolerated because it happens behind closed doors.