#SetHerFree: Yarl’s Wood must give inmates access to guide on their rights

On Tuesday, the United Kingdom’s Home Office informed staff at Yarl’s Wood that they must return to prisoners a guide on their rights as asylum seekers and, more generally, people facing deportation. This self-help guide has been circulating in English immigration detention centers for more than ten years, but only recently did the prison staff decide that, “given the nature of the content”, it’s contraband. “The publication, entitled For Asylum Seekers and their Supporters, a Self-Help Guide Against Detention and Deportation, advises on how to pursue legal rights and seek help.” Sound pretty dangerous, doesn’t it?

Since April, Alice Wanja-Maina has been a prisoner in Yarl’s Wood. She explains, “I signed for them but then they took them away. The guides help us fight deportation and detention. The guards said you are not going to have them, that they were banned and that I was going to be deported back to Kenya. The book is really good. It helps us prepare our cases. We don’t have lawyers to help us. This gives us the confidence to carry on. To be enclosed in a detention centre like this is really bad. They treat us like animals. I can’t sleep. I suffered rape and torture in Kenya at the hands of a traditional African organisation which is opposed to western culture. I can’t go back.”

When Alice Wanja-Maina says, “They treat us like animals,” she echoes the statement of a Yarl’s Wood manager, chatting with his mates about Yarl’s Woods African women prisoners: “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.”

This Yarl’s Wood story has been reported as a story about a “guide on avoiding deportation.” Wrong. The story concerns a guide on due process and women’s rights, including those of African women. Yarl’s Wood is a deportation factory, and if one or two `products’ fall off the assembly line, the factory will keep on churning out deportees. After over ten years, the guides were not confiscated because of deportation concerns. The nature of the content is women’s access to rights and due process. The last thing Yarl’s Wood, and its architects, want is vulnerable women, and in particular African women, accessing due process, rights and, ultimately, power. After all, they’re caged animals. Right? Meanwhile, Alice Wanja-Maina has arranged for new copies to be sent in.


(Photo 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.