I recently spoke in a House of Commons debate regarding immigration detention. Having spoken with the charity ‘Women for Refugee Women’ I have been particularly alarmed at the conditions in which many female asylum seekers are detained. Read my speech here:
Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker. I’d like to congratulate my Hon. friend, the member for Sheffield Central for securing this vital debate.
Every year approx 2,000 women seeking asylum in the UK are detained, many at Yarls Wood detention centre near Bedford.
Many, indeed the majority of these women have survived traumatic life events including rape, domestic violence and threats of abuse. They are often therefore psychologically affected and being locked up or detained can prove to be particularly distressing and counterproductive forcing some to relive their traumas. 40% of women interviewed recently admitted they had self-harmed with 20% attempting to commit suicide.
In a recent report, the Chief Inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said Yarls Wood was ‘rightly a place of national concern’. The inspectorate found that around half the women detained in detention centres pending an asylum decision felt unsafe. The inspectorate report worryingly detailed that since the previous inspection ‘the treatment and condition of those held had deteriorated significantly.’
One woman said ‘I feel so upset and frightened, I was arrested and locked up and tortured back home. I have scars on my feet and arms where I was beaten by the guards, so the situation here and with make guards made me feel extremely frightened. It feels like being locked up in a prison back home.’
Women also alluded to significant breaches of privacy whilst being held including allegations of sexual harassment and violations of dignity. Female staffing levels are considered to be inadequate according to the In
The parliamentary inquiry recommended a mandatory 28 day time limit on all immigration detention and referring to cases of women, called for gender specific rules in the detention estate, no detention of pregnant women or survivors of rape and sexual abuse. Current Home Office policy stipulates that pregnant women should only be detained in exceptional circumstances but in 2014, 99 were held at Yarls Wood alone.
Detention is a costly exercise, currently costing around £40,000 a year with comparative costs of maintaining those seeking asylum in the community significantly cheaper. There is significant evidence that detention of asylum seekers is expensive, unnecessary and indeed unjust. There is a clear appetite across this House for a change in culture and I look forward to seeing some real progress on this issue.