Four women, who were taking part in a peaceful hunger strike against the conditions of their immigration detention, have been moved to prison following scenes of alleged chaos and mistreatment.
Aminata Camara, from Guinea, Gladys Obiyan, from Nigeria, and Sheree Wilson and Shellyann Stupart, both from Jamaica, were moved from Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedford on Monday. They, alongside dozens of other women, including mothers detained with their children, had been taking part in a peaceful hunger strike in protest at the conditions of their detention and their frustrations around the wider asylum process. Allegations of mistreatment have since emerged as the staff at Yarl’s Wood separated some of the women in an attempt to retake control.
On 8 February reports started emerging that Yarl’s Wood was in lockdown as a ‘state of chaos’ descended. Up to eighty of the women, who had been on the peaceful hunger strike since Friday, 5 February, were allegedly rounded up and moved into a corridor after making requests to speak to officials. They were held there for several hours and, according to reports coming out of the centre, were refused access to water or toilets. Reports also spoke of around twenty women being locked outside in a yard, with no outdoor clothing, despite the freezing conditions.
The Black Women’s Rape Action Project, which has been in touch with women inside the centre, say that four women, including an asthma sufferer, fainted. The group also alleges that some of the women have been racially abused, beaten and injured by guards at the centre.
Four women moved to prison, but no charges brought against them
Sometime on 8 February, Aminata, Gladys, Sheree and Shellyann were separated from the others and are now believed to be held in HMP Holloway and HMP Bronzefield. Gladys alleges that she suffered mistreatment at the hands of the police after being held overnight at Bedford police station during the transfer.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigners (NCADC), none of the four women have been charged with any offence nor were they involved in action that was other than peaceful.
Hunger strike ongoing
The hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood appears to be ongoing, with sixty-eight women still reportedly refusing food as of Wednesday 10 February. The group of women, calling themselves Women behind the Wire @ Yarl’s Wood IRC, have issued a formal statement outlining their demands.
Amongst other things, they request the right to ‘enough and reasonable time, with adequate resources … to fully present their cases before the authorities’, ‘to put an end to forceful removal of foreign national detainees’ and to demand that ‘detention must be for the very shortest time’. They also call for a ‘stop to physical and mental torture of all residents’ and ‘an end of frustration and humiliation of all residents’.
Download a copy of the Women behind the Wire’s demands (pdf file, 216kb)