The UK built a special hell for African women: Yarl’s Wood

Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is as it has always been: notoriously rotten to the core. It’s a terrible idea horribly implemented in an architecture of abuse and atrocity. This has been more or less public knowledge for quite some time. Periodically, individual stories of pain, suffering, death emerged, and Yarl’s Wood would once again receive its fifteen minutes of infamy, and then recede into the cozy comforts of willed unconsciousness. Revelations this past week might change that tempo a bit. This week, we saw the fiber of Yarl’s Wood, and it’s designed to strangle African women.

On Monday, England’s Channel 4 broadcast Crying to Get Out, an undercover investigative report, one of the rare visual documents of life, and death, inside “secretive” Yarl’s Wood. While the report does have the first pictures from inside Yarl’s Wood, the aural record is far more telling. Listen to what the guards say in open conversation.

A manager explains `the situation’, “They’re animals. They’re beasties. They’re all animals. They’re caged animals. Right? Take a stick in with you and beat them up.” A guard generalizes, ”They’re all b*****ds. I don’t like any of them.” Another reflects on the rising incidence of self-harm, “They are all slashing their wrists apparently. Let them slash their wrists.” When a third hears that a woman attacked a guard, he replies, “Should’ve f**king headbutted the b****. Headbutt the b****. I’d beat her up.”

And who are “they”? And who is “she”? On the one hand, they’re women, women asylum seekers, pregnant women, and, now, women prisoners, for the crime of having sought haven. The film mentions a Chinese woman, a Sri Lankan woman, but “they” for whom the most severe violence is reserved are African women.

A guard describes the scene when women resist forced removal, “They take their clothes off, right [to resist forced removal]. Not normally Jamaicans. But it’s a very common thing with African ladies. They’re never slim and petite and pretty.”

Another guard explains, “Some of those women in there are horrible. They are really, really horrible. They’re evil. There’s a lot of them that are really nice. But some of them, these Black women, they’re f***king horrible,”

Something is indeed f***king horrible in the state of the United Kingdom: Yarl’s Wood, and the entire `immigrant detention enterprise.’ Serco has fired a couple guards and the Home Office has proposed using body cameras. That intentionally misses the point. Guards spoke their disgust and hatred openly because disgust and hatred of Black women aka African women are corporate and State policy.

Since Monday’s broadcast, Parliament received a damning cross party report on the use of immigrant detention in the United Kingdom; former prisoners of Yarl’s Wood have spoken out of the institutional reign of terror and atrocity; current prisoners are engaged in peaceful protest and perhaps a hunger strike; and Nigerian lesbian asylum seekers Aderonke Apata’s hearing began, during which she has been subjected to one racist homophobic Home Office claim after another. This is the State of Yarl’s Wood, and over its entrance there should be a sign that reads: “But some of them, these Black women, they’re f***king horrible.” Yarl’s Wood is meant to be a special hell for African women. Don’t fix it. Shut it down.

 

(Photo and video credit: Channel4.com / YouTube)

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.