Welcome to Yarl’s Wood, the UK’s special hell for pregnant women

We have been here before … too often: “The Home Office has offered a formal apology and will pay compensation to a pregnant asylum seeker who was unlawfully arrested and detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.” The woman, known as Ms PA, is Congolese. The horror of Ms. PA’s story is that there is no horror in the familiar. Ms. PA was one of 99 pregnant women held in Yarl’s Wood last year. The Home Office has apologized to Ms. PA. The other 98 women must just wait. The horror of Ms. PA’s story is that it is typical.

On February 3, 2014, Ms. PA was arrested, without notice, held for ten hours and then shipped eight hours to Yarl’s Wood. She was four months pregnant at the time. She told the officials she was due for her 20 week scan, and nothing happened. During her month in Yarl’s Wood, she was seen, once, by a midwife, and that was the sum total of her health care.

None of this was hidden. The Guardian interviewed Ms. PA while she was in Yarl’s Wood: “I am very worried about what is happening to my baby. I feel like I am being treated like a criminal here although I have not committed any crime.”

What crime did Ms. PA commit? The crime of being immigrant, African, woman, pregnant, each and all of these combined?

Now the Home Office says what it must. It apologizes. It will investigate. It will … do absolutely nothing.

Worse than nothing, it will continue to imprison pregnant women in open violation of its own policies, and with complete impunity. Last year, Richard Fuller, a Member of Parliament, inquired as to the situation of Ms. PA and three other women. Here’s what happened: “December of last year I had a letter from the Immigration Minster saying that he had asked Serco who were then in charge of Yarl’s Wood to look into these four case and he was assured that an independent health assessment said that there was no problem with their healthcare, that has now been contradicted in court.”

He was assured. Despite reports from the Chief Inspector of Prisons; Medical Justice; Channel 4; and testimony after testimony after testimony after testimony by current and former Yarl’s Wood prisoners, he … was … assured.

Many are now calling for the Home Office to apologize to all the pregnant women it has thrown into Yarl’s Wood. While a good call, that would not begin to arrive at the zero point of justice. Compensation to the women and to their children would also be a good move, and would also leave the nation, and justice itself, in the hole. The threat of Yarl’s Wood remains as long as Yarl’s Wood remains open. The pain of Yarl’s Wood remains as long as Yarl’s Wood remains open. Shut down the whole enterprise and apparatus now. Otherwise, he will always be assured, and she will always suffer harm and injustice. #SetHerFree #ShutYarlsWood Shut it down … now.

 

(Photo Credit: Jesse Hurd / reportdigital.co.uk / Buzzfeed)

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.