At Yarl’s Wood, 120 women prisoners are on hunger strike! #ShutYarlsWood


England built a special hell for women: Yarl’s Wood. This week, 120 Yarl’s Wood women prisoners are on hunger strike. The women are protesting indefinite detention, abysmal healthcare services, abuse, and denial of personal and collective dignity and humanity. Today, after being denied entry for a year, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott was finally allowed inside the complex. Abbott was accompanied by Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general. Eight years ago, to the day, women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood engaged in a hunger strike from February 5 to March 19, 2010. That same year, in January, Bita Ghaedi entered into a weeks long individual hunger strike, out of fear of certain death if she was returned to Iran. In March 2015, women prisoners at Yarl’s Wood went on a hunger strike. Why does England, or the government of England, want to demean, abuse and traumatized so many vulnerable already traumatized women, most of women are African and Asian? Why does England hate so many women so intensely? When will this reign of terror end?

One hunger striker, an Algerian woman who has lived in England since she was 11 years old, explained, “Every day I wake up and I have to think of a reason to go on. I’ve given up thinking about the outside – I’ve given up thinking about it. I feel like I’m in someone’s dungeon and no one is letting me out. I might as well be blindfolded in a van going 100 miles an hour in a direction I don’t know. The indefinite detention causes people so much stress. People are breaking down psychologically. We have no fight left. They break you down. It’s inhumane. And there’s no psychological help. I’ve tried speaking to a psychological nurse in the centre about issues I have, and he advised me to speak to my solicitor about it.” This woman has been in Yarl’s Wood for three months. She has no idea if and when she will be released.

In 2017, `Voke’ spent eight months in Yarl’s Wood. While imprisoned there, she attempted suicide: “It was such a relief to get out of there. But I don’t understand why they had to put me through it at all. I hope I will start to feel better soon, but I will never forget being detained. I will never forget Yarl’s Wood.”

Eight years ago, Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers – including Denise McNeil, 35 year old Jamaican asylum seeker; Mojirola Daniels, Nigerian asylum seeker; Leila, Iranian asylum seeker; Victoria Odeleye, 32 year old Nigerian asylum seeker –  reported torture, rape, starvation, other forms of abuse. They described the devastating impact of Yarl’s Wood on imprisoned children, such as 10-year-old Egyptian Nardin Mansour. They mourned and protested the suicides as they explained that Yarl’s Wood was intent on killing them. As Laura A, a Sierra Leonean and former Yarl’s Wood prisoner, noted: “I am a fighter, I am used to fight to live, but to be told, ‘You faked your life,’ is a little like death.”

The Yarl’s Wood women hunger strikers took the calculus of the killing and turned it on its head, saying they were better than that. They said they were women, fighters used to fighting, peacemakers used to making peace, and no one could decide that it was right for them to be slaughtered. They called out, shouted, screamed, fasted, demanded to be heard … and here we are eight years later.

Over 80 percent of the women in Yarl’s Wood are survivors fleeing sexual or gender-based violence. The vast majority of women in Yarl’s Wood end up being released into the community. What sort of factory is designed to produce damage: damaged bodies, souls, psyches, lives? Yarl’s Wood. The time for concern and for discussion is over. The time for justice, and for reparations, is long overdue. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: Politics.co.uk) (Image Credit: Detained Voices)

Why does the English government hate Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon?

Paulette Wilson

Why does the English government hate Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon? What horrible crime has each committed? The only binding element in their combined story is that they are Black immigrant women. Individually, each woman’s story shows a State built of shameful violence against women. Taken together, the combined story of Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon shows a State in which State violence against women of color immigrants is an ever expanding and intensifying evil, a key part of which is the humdrum ordinariness of the women’s stories. What happened and is happening to Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon happens every day and all the time. Their stories are so common they barely get told.

Paulette Wilson is 61 years old. She arrived in England, from Jamaica, in 1968, when she was 10 years old. She has never left England. She has never returned to Jamaica. She grew up in Telford, where her grandparents looked after her. She has a British daughter and grandchild. She has 34 years of National Insurance payments. The law in the United Kingdom states that anyone who settled there prior to January 1, 1973, has the right to remain in the country. Paulette Wilson’s lawyers provided evidence, ample evidence, that she had been in the country since 1968, and that evidence was ignored. Last week, she was taken to Yarl’s Wood. Today, she and her daughter were informed that she was going to be released. When asked about the “heavy handed” approach applied to this Black woman who has lived, nonstop and without trouble for 50 years in the country, when asked about the reasons for ignoring both the law and evidence, the Home Office replied, “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”

In so many ways, this is not an individual case; in so many ways, this case is routine.

Just down the road a bit lies Sheffield, where Patricia Simeon has lived since 2012. Patricia Simeon is 30 years old, Hal Paulette Wilson’s age. Patricia Simeon is a lesbian organizer and human rights campaigner from Sierra Leone. She is locally well known for campaigning for LGBT+, refugee, and faith community rights. She is one of the founders of LASS, the Lesbian Asylum Support Sheffield group. Initially refused asylum, Patricia Simeon was preparing for a November 7 appeal when, last Wednesday, she was picked up and dumped in Yarl’s Wood. Friends and allies launched a campaign to set her free. They noted that Patricia Simeon has provided ample evidence of having been tortured, which means, according to Home Office rules, she should never have been detained. As with Paulette Wilson, the rules and evidence were ignored. On Tuesday, Patricia Simeon was released from Yarl’s Wood.

While the release of both Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon is a cause for celebration, the question remains, “Why does the English government hate Paulette Wilson and Patricia Simeon?” They join the list of women of color immigrant women who have had to live with that same question, a list that includes, in the past seven months alone, Kelechi Chioba,  Erioth MwesigwaShiromini SatkunarajahIrene ClennellChennan Fei. As members of #SetHerFree and Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary know, and as every woman who’s been held in or threatened with a stay in Yarl’s Wood, there is no setting free and there is no justice until Yarl’s Wood and its adjudicating apparatus is destroyed, once and for all, brick by brick, razor wire by razor wire, pen by pen. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now!

Patricia Simeon

 

(Photo Credit 1: BBC) (Photo Credit 2: The Star)