Lilian Oliva Bardales: “In prison when I haven’t committed any crime”

Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, 19 years old, and her four-year-old son have been held in KarnesFamily Detention Center” since last October. She had applied for asylum, explaining that she had fled Honduras to escape an abusive ex-partner, six years older than she, who had beaten her regularly since she was 13. Her application was denied. Last Wednesday, she locked herself in a bathroom and cut her wrists. She was removed from the bathroom, held for four days under medical “supervision” during which she was denied access to her attorneys, and then, on Monday, suddenly moved from Karnes, presumably for deportation. From beginning to now, the treatment of Lilian Oliva Bardales has been a national disgrace.

Oliva Bardales left a note, the translation of which reads, in part: “I write this letter so you know how it feels to be in this damn place for 8 months. You don’t understand that people’s lives have no price and you cannot buy it with money. You don’t have a heart for anybody. You just lie and humiliate all of us who have come to this country … I do this because only God knows what I have suffered in my country. I come here so this country can help me but here you’ve been killing me little by little with punishment and lies in prison when I haven’t committed any crime. What hurts me the most is that I saw how my brother was killed and how it’s hurt my son and all the abuse that we suffered in my country. You don’t believe me you never wanted to give me my freedom. I do this because I would rather be dead than seeing my son fail along with me. Maybe you are not fathers or mothers to understand the reasons and the suffering that we live in this place together with our children. You would not like to be locked up in a place like this the way we are here suffering with our children. What I tell you is that nobody lives forever in this world one day we are all going to die and give an account to God. I do this because I don’t feel any life going back to my country. That’s why I waited so long so you could take a decision on my case but you have treated us worse than an animal …That’s why I do this because you were bad to me and my son. We did not deserve this. now you want to deport me after spending 8 months here.”

That’s “family detention”. It is the place where mercy dies a slow, tortured, mean, evil death:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.”

When mercy seasons justice. When degradation, abuse, torture and despair season the appeal for asylum … what then? Where are Lilian Oliva Bardales and her four-year-old son?

 

(Image Credit: McClatchydc.com)

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)

Campsfield House: And torture survivors should not be detained

According to a report released today by HM Chief Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on an unannounced inspection of Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, prison is a bad place for children and survivors of torture. Compared to last year’s inspection of Harmondsworth, a real hellhole, Campsfield House is ok: “Overall, this was a very positive inspection. Staff and managers at Campsfield House should be congratulated in dealing professionally and sensitively with detainees who were going through what, for many, was a difficult and unhappy time. However, whatever the strengths of the centre, detention should not be used for children, victims of torture or anyone for unreasonable lengths of time. Further improvements to national processes are required to ensure this does not happen.”

Ian Dunt, who follows UK prison matters, responded, “Britain detains torture victims. It is happening in even the best-run and most conscientious detention centres. It is in the small print of the positive inspection reports. It is starting to become a truism – a moral inconvenience, the pothole of the human rights world.” The BBC focused on the detention of children. No one, as of yet, has focused on “unreasonable lengths of time.”

The key phrase is “national processes.” Campsfield House may have a fine staff, although there was last year’s hunger strike and the prison’s brutal response. Whether or not the conditions have improved, one imagines today’s prisoners repeating last year’s prisoners: “We want our freedom. We want our life with dignity.”

Freedom and dignity for asylum seekers is not part of “national processes,” not at the bleak hellhole of Harmondsworth or at the pastel hellhole of Campsfield House.

Consider Rule 35. According to the Home Office, “Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 sets out requirements for healthcare staff at removal centres in regards to any detained person: whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention; suspected of having suicidal intentions; and for whom there are concerns that they may have been a victim of torture.”

For whom there are concerns that they may have been a victim of torture. There’s the rub, because no one with any authority is concerned. The Rule is clear, and its application is laid out in great detail, and none of that matters. Here’s Rule 35 at Campsfield: “Many [Rule 35 reports] merely repeated the detainee’s account and failed to provide a medical opinion, for example, on the consistencies between scarring and alleged methods of torture. Caseworkers’ responses were prompt, although sometimes dismissive, while others did not comply with Home Office policy. In two separate cases, a doctor stated that a detainee might have been the victim of torture but caseworkers maintained they should remain in detention stating that this would not impact on the detainee’s health; the impact on their health was irrelevant as Home Office policy is not to detain torture survivors. In another case, a caseworker maintained that a person should remain in detention because he ‘did not mention being tortured during your screening interview ….’ “

The Inspectorate recommends, “The Home Office should ensure that the rule 35 process provides vulnerable detainees with adequate protection. The reports should include a clinical opinion wherever possible, caseworkers’ responses should address detainees’ vulnerability and torture survivors should not be detained.”

The Home Office has no interest in ensuring protection for the vulnerable immigrant or migrant. The Home Office feels that such protections are a waste of time and money. In 2013, the Home Office was forced by the High Court to pay compensation to torture survivors for the abuse they had endured in “immigration detention centres.” The abuse was the systemic violation of Rule 35. Did anything improve after that? No.

In 2014, Women for Refugee Women documented the rampant violation of Rule 35 in Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere. In 2012, Medical Justice detailed the extensive, systemic violation of Rule 35, and its impact on immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers who are survivors of torture. Throughout this period, researchers have studied the role of doctors in investigation, prevention and treatment of torture; health care for immigrant detainees; and the health implications of the state of immigration detention centres in the UK. They all found that systemic violation of Rule 35 leaves those who have somehow managed to survive torture to fend for themselves behind bars. Has anything improved as a result of the research? No.

Instead, the Home Office has responded by tightening the screws. What’s the difference between last year’s horrible Harmondsworth and this year’s not-so-horrible Campsfield House: “Routine searches of detainees’ rooms were unnecessary. Strip-searches and handcuffs were only used when justified.” We are the people who demonstrate our sense of justice, compassion and humanity by seizing those torture survivors who have struggled to move beyond the violence and throwing them into cages where strip-searches and handcuffs are used only when justified.

 

(Photo Credit: Campaign to Close Campsfield)

#SetHerFree: Women call for the closure of Yarl’s Wood and beyond

Women for Refugee Women’s latest report, I Am Human: Refugee women’s experiences of detention in the UK is hard and all too familiar reading. Women seek asylum because they have been tortured, raped, forced into marriage, persecuted, and then they are imprisoned and tortured anew when they apply for asylum. Two thousand women are locked up in Yarl’s Wood, every year. Detention is never good for women asylum seekers. Detained asylum seekers suffer much higher rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD than those who live in the community while their applications are assessed. None of this is surprising.

Yarl’s Wood staff is 52% male, 48% female, according to testimony before Parliament last year. So, the reports of routine violation of privacy and sexual intimidation and exploitation are also not surprising. All of this is part of the design of a program that imprisons women who seek help.

Margaret fled the DRC, ended up in the UK, applied for asylum: “We arrived at midnight. And I saw it was a prison. I came here only just to ask asylum, I’m not a criminal. I am so depressed that they think I am going to kill myself here and I am watched by men and women night and day. When the men watch me it makes me have so many bad feelings about myself and my body. I feel full of shame about what happened to me and what is happening to me. Being in prison here is a torture in my head.”

Margaret now has refugee status in the United Kingdom. What exactly is the investment the State has made in driving Margaret mad? What good can possibly come from such a policy? None. Repeatedly, current and former prisoners of Yarl’s Wood describe the programmatic assault on their humanity, and they wonder, “What good can from a policy of dehumanizing women?” None.

The only good is from those women who are organizing to smash this system. The report ends with a straightforward message: TOGETHER WE ARE STRONG: CAMPAIGNING TO END DETENTION ACROSS THE UK. Women Asylum Seekers Together Manchester organize with Aderonke Apata to shut down Yarl’s Wood and beyond. Embrace in Stoke-on-Trent is doing likewise. Why Refugee Women, in Bradford, was organized by Beatrice Botomani, a former detainee. There’s Hope Projects, in Birmingham, and the London Refugee Women’s Forum. And there’s Women for Refugee Women, and in particular, the #SetHerFree campaign, launched by former Yarl’s Wood prisoners, Meltem Avcil and Lydia Besong.

Women refusing to be silent, speaking and shouting and dancing in the streets, halls, corridors, meeting rooms, classrooms and everywhere else – that’s the real story here. While it’s not surprising to those who know anything about women’s social justice work, across the centuries, it’s still a welcome astonishment. Women asylum seekers ask for haven and shelter, but they know that TOGETHER THEY ARE STRONG, and they will tear down the walls of Yarl’s Wood. And that will be only the beginning of the real asylum process. Setting them free is a next step in setting us all free. Set her free. Set us free.

 

(Image Credit: flickr.com)

No crime, no trial, indefinite detention: Happy birthday Glory Anawa

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” We have traveled far, and quickly, from such notions of childhood, tenderness, and caring. Instead, we now have prison camouflaged as `detention’, and hell powder puffed as “indefinite detention.” Indefinite detention is not indefinite. It’s eternal damnation, and we, not the children, are the damned.

Glory Anawa fled Cameroon after a threat of Female Genital Mutilation. She sought refuge. Now she sits in a Canadian immigration detention center with little to no hope of seeing anything like freedom ever again.

Anawa’s story is long and complicated, and yet quite simple. At the age of 23 and pregnant, Glory Anawa was sent to Yarl’s Wood, where she remained until she was 8 months and 2 weeks pregnant. Then she was released … for a matter of weeks, after which it was back to Yarl’s Wood for the young mother and her 6-week-old daughter, Tracy. From there, things went downhill, as they had for other mothers and daughters in Yarl’s Wood. Finally, Glory Anawa and daughter Tracy were released.

In February 2013, Glory Anawa, pregnant, sought refuge in Canada. She was immediately taken into custody. In August 2013, Glory gave birth to her son, Alpha Ochigbo. Since birth, Alpha, a Canadian citizen, has been with his mother in prison. The authorities have tried to deport Glory, but Cameroon won’t provide papers. So, Glory Anawa is stuck, because Canada does not have a limit on how long it can detain immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers, or refugees. Glory is not stuck. She has been firmly planted by Canada into a new rung of hell, that of the women who seek asylum, refuge, or help. Welcome to the neoliberal world order.

I don’t even have words to express how I feel. It makes me speechless. I’ve been robbed of my life,” says Glory Anawa. Suffering beyond expression followed by silence followed by a total and global theft that results in death-in-life. Around the world, this is the formula for those who seek asylum, generally, and for women in particular. Canada adds the twist of indefinite detention. Glory Anawa is one of 145 migrants in Canada who are under indefinite detention. Why? Why hold anyone indefinitely? Why hold those who have committed no crime indefinitely? Why hold those who have never been tried indefinitely?

Today, December 15, 2014, is Glory Anawa’s 29th birthday. She should not be condemned to indefinite anything. No one should. And we should not be condemned for eternity for the crime of looking the other way. Tear down more than the walls. Tear down the processes, tear down the consciousness that allows us to think it’s right to condemn women, children, men, all who seek haven from a life of pain and suffering.

 

(Photo Credit: TheMainlander.com)

Jamila Bibi and the high price of compassion

On Tuesday, September 16, Jamila Bibi was deported from Canada to Pakistan. The story is straightforward, and then again it’s not. Jamila Bibi is 65 years old. In 2007, Bibi fled her home. She says she was accused, falsely, of adultery. If convicted, Jamila Bibi could face death by stoning. Bibi went to Canada and applied for asylum.

In 2009, her asylum case was heard. Negar Azmudeh, who presided over the case, concluded that Jamila Bibi was a credible witness, that there was ample evidence that she had been unjustly accused of adultery, and that if convicted she would face death by stoning. However, Azmudeh reasoned that since Jamila Bibi’s husband had not filed for divorce, she was not only still married but under the protection of her husband. It was her husband’s uncle who had filed the adultery charges. And so Jamila Bibi was denied asylum. She did not have enough money for a lawyer, and so did not immediately appeal the decision.

Three months after the 2009 hearing, Bibi’s husband filed for and received a divorce. That action did not change the decision. Bibi has been working in Saskatoon as a cook. She reported dutifully every week. She made friends, some very dear, such as her employer Sahana Yeasmin.

In 2012, Bibi had enough money set aside to approach a lawyer, who immediately appealed the case. Again, Bibi reported every week. Two weeks ago, on her regular visit, she was informed she was to be deported. She was immediately taken into custody. Less than a week later, she was deported to Pakistan. According to Sahana Yeasmin, Bibi, now in Pakistan, fears for her life and is in hiding. Yeasmin reports that Bibi is thankful for the support and remains hopeful that she will be able to return to Canada and to her life in Saskatoon.

Jamila Bibi’s story, up to now, is painful and terrible, but Canada’s story, in many ways, is far worse. How is it that an adjudicator can say that despite credible and ample evidence, a woman accused of adultery is safe because her husband has not divorced her? How is that no one applied compassionate grounds to keep Jamila Bibi in Canada? Where exactly is the intersection of the rule of law and the exercise of compassion, in particular in asylum cases? Surely, these are the exceptional cases that test and prove the rule.

As Nida Shahzeb wrote, “What evidence are they talking about? Did they expect Jamila Bibi to pull some strings even though they know she does not come from privilege back in her village? Or do they expect her accusers to now shower her with petals at the airport? What makes this action of the Canadian government different from the numerous acts of brutality in Pakistan? Is Canada to be held accountable if Jamila Bibi is killed in Pakistan, a country which has a continuing history of honour killings?”

Why did Canada ship Jamila Bibi back to Pakistan, perhaps to a slow and painful death? Because she wasn’t worth keeping. As a woman, a woman of color, an older woman, a woman worker of meager means, she simply didn’t have enough value for the State to be bothered. In the global asylum and refugee marketplace, the price of compassion for such women has become prohibitively high.

 

(Photo Credit: cbc.ca)

Now you have touched Aderonke Apata, you have struck a rock, you will be crushed!

The United Kingdom tried to crush Nigerian lesbian, feminist, asylum seeker Aderonke Apata. Big mistake. They threw her into Yarl’s Wood, the notorious prison for women asylum seekers and migrants. She organized and mobilized. They tried to cast doubt on her claim of being a lesbian. She looked at them with pity, and then provided evidence. They tried to silence her. She founded Manchester Migrant Solidarity, aka MiSol, “a convergence space for migrants (including asylum seekers, economic migrants etc.) and non-migrants, offering practical and social activities for mutual support, empowerment and solidarity.” MiSol joined with WAST, Women Asylum Seekers Together; and Safety4Sisters to make clear there is only way forward: Shut Yarl’s Wood.

The State tried to turn Aderonke Apata into a spectacle, then into a cipher, then into a ghost. Each time the State failed, or, better, each time Aderonke Apata succeeded in organizing, mobilizing, articulating, shouting, whispering, speaking, singing, being heard and being fearless.

At a #ShutDownYarlsWood demonstration in June, Apata explained, “This wasn’t people speaking for other people, we heard women telling their own stories about what goes on in Yarl’s Wood. … Conditions in there are very bad, with poor healthcare, abuse and bad treatment, when these are women who have experienced imprisonment and torture before … Many women develop mental health problems that they didn’t have before. The prison environment brings back bad memories. There is no reason to detain these women in prison, for this is what Yarl’s Wood is …This is going on in our backyards, and yet people do not know about it. When they find out, they are enraged … We will speak with a louder voice until it is heard and continue to make more noise about Yarl’s Wood until it is shut down.”

Apata’s asylum case, and status, is still pending. Nevertheless, and because irony is decidedly not dead, Aderonke Apata, this past week, made the shortlist for a National Diversity Award, in the Positive LGBT Role Model category. In the eyes of some, Aderonke Apata is a hero, and the State is condemned.

Awards are nice, acknowledgement of one’s work is great, action is the best. End the United Kingdom’s current witch-hunt against African lesbians, against African women asylum seekers, against African women generally. Shut down Yarl’s Wood. Don’t delay, don’t pretend it’s complicated. It’s not. The “conditions in there are very bad.” Every day Yarl’s Wood is open, women living trauma are forced to engage with their past traumas wrapped into new ones, with the pain intensifying by the second. Every day Yarl’s Wood is open, women who sought help are exploited and then exploited again more intensively. It’s not complicated. Shut down Yarl’s Wood, because it’s bad and wrong, and every day it’s open, we are steeped deeper and deeper into guilt and shame. All of us are. Shut down Yarl’s Wood. Do it today.

 

(Photo Credit; Flickr.com)

Australia is `shocked’ by its routine torture of children

Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands. Among `detained’ asylum seekers, children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior, according to Gillian Triggs, President of Australia’s Human Rights Commission. According to Triggs, between January 2013 and March 2014, there were 128 reported self-harm incidents by children in detention. Triggs characterized these numbers as “shockingly high.”

The numbers are high. The stories are heartbreaking. The pictures drawn by children are devastating. One girl draws her own portrait. It’s a close up of her face, pressed against bars. Her eyes are blue, her tears, streaming down her face, are blood red. All the self-portraits are similar: the children are crying and are all in cages. Doctors and others report that children can’t sleep, suffer trauma, regress, suffer clinical depression, self-harm, and die inside.

There is no shock here. This has been Australia’s public policy for over a decade, and the policy has only worsened. As Gillian Triggs noted, “Children are being held for significantly greater periods of time than has been the case in the past, and that leads virtually inevitably to greater levels of mental health disturbance.”

Leads virtually inevitably to greater levels of mental health disturbance. Just call it ordinary torture, and be done. The delivery of medical services is worse than toxic, and the stays get longer and longer. Today, Australia holds more or less 1,000 children in “closed immigration detention.”  The longer children stay in “closed immigration detention”, the more likely they are to suffer mental health crises and the more severe those crises will become.

At a hearing of the Australian Human Rights Commission this week, Triggs asked, “Is it acceptable to have children held on Christmas Island in shipping bunkers, containers, on stony ground, surrounded by phosphate dust in that heat?” The government representative replied, “The last time I looked, president, there was no shipping container. They are containerised accommodation, they are not shipping containers.” Unfortunately, “containerised accommodation” does clarify everything. The State sees these children as less than less than less than human.

A child will die in one of those cages, and that child will have been a human. Perception matters, as Australia’s women asylum seekers and their children well know. Torture matters. The torture of children matters. Children matter. Tell Australia, and tell all the nations of the world that throwing asylum seeking children into cages. Children matter. It’s not shocking.

 

(Image Credit: The Daily Mail)

Detention centers: No country for young girls

Two girls, both under five years old, were released after two days and nights in detention. Last night, Basirat and Rashidat, and their mother, Afusat Saliu, were released from Cedars pre-departure `accommodation’. They spent Wednesday at Cayley House, “a non-residential short-term holding facility at Heathrow Airport.” It’s not a facility. It’s a prison. Here’s how their mother, Afusat Saliu, describes their first night: “It was terrible. We had to sleep on the floor. There was no privacy – if you went to the toilet, you went in front of everyone. I felt terrible. Some of the crew at Cayley House were nice, but it was not a good environment for a child.”

No place for a child. In a report released today, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons agrees. Too much force is used too often. Officers show up in full battle gear, don’t announce themselves, don’t knock on the door, batter the door down and rush in. They have two speeds: terrifying and terrorizing: “Whatever one’s views on immigration, the distress described in this report of the families passing through the centre and its potential impact on the children involved is disturbing. It was difficult to see how the children’s welfare was being promoted in line with statutory requirements.”

42 families `passed through’ Cedars last year. Suicide and self-harm measures were initiated 25 times. This is the new math of neoliberal fortress nations. The mothers who seek help are bad mothers, the children who need help are bad girls. They’re defective products that must be removed.

Thanks to a mighty hue and cry, including leaning on Richard Branson not to allow his airline to be used for deportation, Afusat Saliu and her daughters, Basirat and Rashidat, were given a reprieve, while their case is `reviewed.’ In the name of the girls, Afusat Saliu applied for asylum, because she fears her daughters will be forced to undergo female genital mutilation in Nigeria.

Think of all the work and time that has gone into keeping two young girls out of prison.

Those two young girls, those babies, should never have been in prison in the first place. They should never have been forced to leave their home in Leeds and shuttle from one hole to another. They should never have been forced to feel their mother’s distress. You don’t need a government commission – not from the United Kingdom, nor Australia, nor the United States, nor anywhere – to know that. You know in your bones and in your soul.

Detention centers, prisons, are no country for young girls. They are terrible. I feel terrible.

 

(Photo credit: Anj Handa / PA)

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)