New information has come to light about the brutal sexual abuse of detainees by guards at the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. A young Roma woman has come forward to tell the story of her sexual abuse at the hands of three male guards, ignored and covered up by the management.
This is not a surprising revelation, to those of us who have been following the horrifying saga of Yarl’s Wood for some years. In 2010, fifty women detainees went on hunger strike to protest the hellish conditions of their detention. The guards responded by locking them in corridors without access to water, medical treatment or toilets. This came on the heels of a 2009 report by the Children’s Commissioner for England which condemned the abuse and neglect of child detainees at Yarl’s Wood. The report painted a harrowing picture. Children were arrested in dawn raids along with their families, and forced to watch their parents handcuffed and humiliated by immigration officers. They were caged in prison vans stained with urine and vomit, denied water and toilet breaks, and taken to Yarl’s Wood, where they endured a living hell. Children with critical illnesses were given paracetamol instead of being taken to hospital. Basic preventative care was not provided. People in chronic pain were denied painkillers.
The report was largely ignored by politicians and the public, and Yarl’s Wood has not changed. Four years on, Samantha, an African refugee who was imprisoned at Yarl’s Wood while she was pregnant, has told a horrifying story of the inhuman, degrading and traumatizing conditions she and her newborn daughter faced. Despite years of attempts by courageous journalists and activists to bring these stories to public attention, the British public still refuses to face the reality of what is being done to immigrants in its name.
Today, thanks to the courage of one detainee and the support of her lawyers, the culture of sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood has been exposed. I hope that the public will start to pay attention. But I fear that these fresh revelations, like those before them, will be too easily swept under the carpet. Too few people will come to question the British state’s brutal policy of subjecting human beings – some of them children, many of them vulnerable and traumatized – to the living hell of immigration detention. Too few people will question the culture that allows abuse to flourish: a culture in which some people are labelled with the dehumanizing epithet “illegal”, denied the most basic of civil rights, and interned in detention camps behind barbed wire.
Close Yarl’s Wood. Open the borders.