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Streatham charity hopes Yarl’s Wood shutdown protest will ‘highlight conditions of asylum seekers’

A ‘degrading and inhuman’ detention centre is the focus of a protest demanding its closure tomorrow as a Streatham charity hopes the demonstration will shine a light on the conditions faced by refugees.

Around 1,000 demonstrators from around the country will travel from across Britain tomorrow to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire to demand the closure of the notorious detention centre.

The demonstration will be the ninth organised by the Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary (MFJ), at Yarl’s Wood near Milton Ernest, which seeks to end shocking treatment of detainees inside.

Celia Sands, director of the South London Refugee Association (SLRA), said: “These demonstrations highlight the lack of information available to the public concerning conditions of asylum seekers in centres like Yarl’s Wood.

“It is important to understand that there are people in our local area who have been through that experience.”

Opened in 2001, Yarl’s Wood houses adult women and adult family groups awaiting immigration clearance.

But the facility has been at the centre of a number of controversies, including allegations of abuse and rape of female detainees, and even suicide.

“You cannot lock 400 women up, the majority of whom have experienced trauma, and it be anything other than abusive.”

By bringing together ‘detainees at the windows of Yarl’s Wood, with anti-racist fighters outside from all around the country’, MFJ want to ‘strengthen and empower the women inside in their daily fight for survival’.

Karen Doyle, founding member and national organiser of MFJ, criticised ‘the secretive world behind the walls of Yarl’s Wood’, arguing against the ‘unacceptable’ conditions.

She advocated for its closure and the resettlement of detainees within communities, where they would be able to work on their cases without the trauma of being locked up.

In January this year, Serco, the company who run Yarl’s Wood, pledged to improve conditions at the facility, but Ms Doyle remains unconvinced.

She said: “It is like putting a sticking plaster over a septic wound.

“You cannot lock 400 women up, the majority of whom have experienced rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, forced marriage, FGM, persecution because of their sexuality and all the myriad of trauma that women face around the world, and have it be anything other than abusive.”

Ms Doyle called the issue a concern for anyone who cares about ‘women’s rights, human rights, justice and equality’.

She said: “The UK’s commitment to human rights is a lie as long as places like Yarl’s wood exist.”

In 2012, a statement from detainees inside the detention centre claimed that one woman, Christine Nakato from Uganda, had been forcibly removed and then injected by officers in order to subdue her.

Additionally, in 2015, conditions at the detention centre had deteriorated to the point that the government’s chief prisons inspector called it ‘a place of national concern’.

Ms Doyle said: “Yarl’s Wood is more than a national concern, it is a blot on the UK’s stated commitment to human rights.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We respect everyone’s right to peaceful protest but we are clear that detention and removal are essential elements of an effective immigration system. Those with no right to be in the UK should return to their home country.

“We will help those who wish to leave voluntarily but when they refuse to do so, we will take steps to enforce their removal. All decisions to detain are taken on the individual merits of each case and for the shortest period necessary.”

The demonstration is scheduled for 1pm tomorrow, with buses leaving Eversholt Street by Euston Station at 10.15am.

Featured picture courtesy of Takver, with thanks

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