Prisons watchdog slams deteriorating Yarl’s Wood as ‘national concern’ - Refugee Council
August 12, 2015

Prisons watchdog slams deteriorating Yarl’s Wood as ‘national concern’

The Chief Inspector of Prisons has slammed the scandal plagued Yarl’s Wood detention centre as a ‘place of national concern’ which had ‘deteriorated’ since Inspectors’ last visit.

In an unannounced inspection, the prisons watchdog found too many women were being detained inappropriately and the treatment and conditions of those held had deteriorated significantly.

The Refugee Council is extremely alarmed by the report’s findings, especially at the revelation that torture survivors, pregnant women and women with mental health needs are still being detained against Government guidance.

Many of the women at Yarl’s Wood came to Britain because they thought they’d be safe here, but instead of being treated with compassion and dignity, they find themselves thrown behind bars, possibly indefinitely. 

It’s very concerning, but not surprising that such arbitrary detention is impacting heavily on the women’s health, with Inspectors uncovering that the majority of new detainees said they felt suicidal or depressed. Almost half of women surveyed said they felt unsafe at the centre. 

Women in immigration detention are exceptionally vulnerable, with many likely to have been raped, so the Refugee Council is horrified to hear that healthcare and counselling services are inadequate. It’s also extremely inappropriate that male nurses are carrying out health care screenings and it’s particularly disturbing that male guards have been found to enter women’s rooms without knocking.

The Refugee Council is shocked that officials are not even following current policy and nearly 100 pregnant women have been detained without any clear reason.

The report recounts one particularly alarming incident documented by inspectors of the response a pregnant woman who waited an hour to see a doctor received after complaining of back and abdomen pain, dizziness, breathlessness and nausea.

“After having her blood sugar and blood pressure checked she was advised to eat and drink normally and to take paracetamol for the pain. This advice did not concur with the local protocol for ante-natal services which stated that: ‘women who present with pain……need IMMEDIATE assessment and referral to A&E/Labour Ward if necessary.”

Pregnant women with insecure immigration status are far more likely to die during childbirth or lose their babies than British women. Women who already have such high risk pregnancies should not be detained under any circumstances. There is absolutely no excuse for compromising the health and well being of a mother and her baby.

Responding to the report, Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “The fact that people fleeing war and persecution are being locked away indefinitely in a civilised country is an affront to the values of liberty and compassion that we proudly regard as the cornerstones of our democracy

“If the Government wants to prove it’s serious about justice and protecting vulnerable people, Ministers must urgently acknowledge that Britain’s policy of arbitrarily placing people behind bars because it’s politically expedient is wholly unjust, extremely expensive and utterly unsustainable.

“It’s high time Yarl’s Wood and places like it were closed. Seeking asylum is a human right, not a crime.”

For asylum seekers in Britain, the fear of being detained is a very real one. It could happen to them at any time, for no obvious reason. Around half of asylum seekers will find themselves in detention at some point in the process.

Earlier this year, a cross party group of Parliamentarians called for a the Government to place a 28 day time limit on the length of time someone can be detained for. In a damning report, MPs stated that the current use of detention was ‘disproportionate and inappropriate’, and implored the Government to investigate more cost effective community based alternatives.

For the first time, the government-appointed prisons inspector has backed calls for a time limit on detention, recommending that ‘a strict time limit must now be introduced on the length of time that anyone can be administratively detained.’

MPs will debate the findings of the report on 10 September. Find out how you can help ensure your MP attends here.