Aidah Asaba, “Sana” and the witch trials of Yarl’s Wood


Aidah Asaba, a Ugandan lesbian seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, and a woman called “Sana”, a domestic violence survivor from Pakistan seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, are among the most recent subjects of the witch trials of Yarl’s Wood. So are Leah and Tilia, and so many others whose names recede into the background.

In the past couple weeks, Aidah Asaba and “Sana” have sort of directed some attention back on the so-called `secret world of immigration removal.” It’s not secret, and these women are not simply `immigrants’. They are asylum seekers, whose very status should imply a test case for our collective and individual humanity.

Instead, what happens in Yarl’s Wood is a witch trial that extends to the entirety of the country, in this instance the United Kingdom, and beyond that to the entire world in which women who seek asylum are deemed criminal. What happens to lesbians seeking asylum? What happens to women fleeing household, family and community violence? They ask for asylum, and they are tortured. Sometimes swiftly, more often than not slowly and by degrees.

This is not about Serco, which runs Yarl’s Wood, although certainly has much to answer for. This is about the entire system that recognizes and identifies a group of women as “the most vulnerable” and then proceeds to torture them. In a recent scholarly journal book review, a writer noted, “Anyone who has visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire knows that asylum seekers are virtually imprisoned as they await the result of their cases, and live under dreadful conditions with risks of malnutrition and sexual assault every day.”

There is no secret. Anyone who has visited knows, and everyone who can read does as well. Now that, after much struggle, some women’s stories are beginning to emerge, some are claiming shock and calling for inquiries. Now we hear the women’s stories of the sexual predators who rule Yarl’s Wood. Now we hear, from a former official, that over half the women in Yarl’s Wood engage in self harm, and that many women have been deported with little or no mental health assessments, much less care. Now we hear … exactly what we heard before.

Aidah Asaba was released, for how long is unclear, from Yarl’s Wood on Friday, while the Home Office `reviews’ her case. She was supposed to be deported over the weekend. `Sana’ is out of Yarl’s Wood, and living somewhere in the north of England. She talks of the abuse, and evidences the trauma: “We are not criminals. They are treating us like animals.”

Sadly, no, not like animals. They are treating you as they treat Asian women, African women, women of color, women seeking help. And by “they”, I mean “we.”


(Photo Credit: Ruth Whitworth / Demotix / Corbis / Guardian)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.