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)

This Easter, spare a thought for refugee women and children in detention

Concerns about the detention of children have become an international issue. International human rights legislation provides that child migrants should not be detained for immigration-related reasons. Detailed information about un-accompanied children is not available; however, it is known that within some countries children are routinely being detained. For example, in November 2015 more than 100 countries criticised Australia for detaining women and children within offshore facilities.

The detention of children, even for short periods is understood to be harmful. The United States has the largest number of immigration centres and some of these detain families. #ShutDownBerks is campaigning to stop this Pennsylvania detention centre operating illegally and violating not only human rights but also domestic civil law.

Concerns about the welfare of women and children in immigration detention centres are shared by campaigners around the world. In the United Kingdom, Women for Refugee Women has organised a campaign called #SetHerFree. This campaign not only highlights that women are being detained indefinitely without their friends or family but are also pregnant.

In April 2015, the government of Greece said that people were being held in horrendous conditions and their continued incarceration was unaffordable. United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner’s European representative Jan Jarab explained, “There has to be facilities of a non-prison type character and it is clear that to create all this will require a kind of redirection of the government’s energies”. This is clearly needed within all countries around the world, especially within the most developed countries where there are many examples of acts against humanity for refugee women and children in detention. In the report about the release of refugees from immigration centres in Greece, a detainee said, “This was like prison, this was not a centre, at centres you can go outside, you can play ball, this was like a prison.”

 

(Photo Credit: Make The Road New York)

Yarl’s Wood’s “appropriate vulnerability” is violence against women

Every year or so, a new report uncovers the programmatic abuse of women asylum seekers in Yarl’s Wood. In 2006, Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and Women Against Rape (WAR) released Misjudging rape – Breaching Gender Guidelines and International Law in Asylum Appeals, which examined 65 rulings by immigration judges. The judges rejected rape claims in 65% of the cases, arguing each woman had failed to mention the rape early on and so must be lying. Since then, the reports have continued, and each shows the situation has, if anything, worsened. If everything stays the same, or declines, what’s new?

“Appropriate vulnerability.”

The most recent study, “Reason to disbelieve: evaluating the rape claims of women seeking asylum in the UK”, finds “the structural and practical obstacles faced in establishing credibility, and the existence of scepticism about rape claims and asylum-seeking more generally, mean that decision-making can often be experienced as arbitrary, unjust, uninformed or contradictory, making it difficult for women asylum applicants who allege rape to find refuge in the UK.”

In a more popular article this week, the author’s explained, “The structure of the asylum system, as well as working cultures around decision-making, can negatively impact women whose asylum claims involve rape allegations. Evaluations of credibility are often influenced by dubious assumptions regarding culture, gender, and sexual violence, and draw upon limited experience of, or empathy with, the peculiar challenges faced by ‘others’. The structural and evidential demands of the asylum process, as well as the political controversies that it attracts, do little to facilitate improvements in the handling of disclosures of rape. Ultimately, success in securing refugee status continues, for too many women, to depend upon their ability to position themselves as ‘appropriately’ vulnerable victims.”

Though grim, the report is in no way surprising. We know that asylum seekers who have been raped must struggle for justice, and, more often than not, don’t get it. We know that such is the case for women generally, and so even more so for the poor and the stranger in our midst. We know the misogyny that informs dismissal of claims of sexual violence. We know that the State and Civil Society built and maintain Yarl’s Wood, where survivors of sexual and domestic violence are not only routinely but brutally denied care services, as are their children, children who have often witnessed the violation of their mothers. We know that from before the beginning to beyond the end, the conditions are designed to further violate women asylum seekers, “this is a journey haunted by silence.” None of this is new, none of this is news, and we know and have known all of it for some time now.

“Appropriate vulnerability” suggests much more than “the treatment of those who come to the UK seeking protection from sexual abuse often remains inadequate.” It’s not inadequate. It’s designed to brutalize women. It is time; it is way past time, to stop analyzing the brutality of Yarl’s Wood as a lack or absence. The State wanted, and wants, a house of non-national women held in a state of perpetual and intensifying violence, and it built it, named it Yarl’s Wood, and called its light Day and its darkness Night, and behold …

Who aspires to “appropriate vulnerability”? No one should, but the State forces women to do so. We have had enough reasoned and balanced reports. We know it is time to end State violence against women, committed in our names. Do it now! #ShutDownYarlsWood #SetHerFree

 

(Photo Credit: CavaSundays) (Woodprint by Jacob Steinhardt, at Velveteen Rabbi)

From fast track to rocket dockets: On the assembly line of rejected women asylum seekers

Another week, another `discovery’ that the liberal democratic State is in the business of torturing women asylum seekers. This week’s offering, Report on an unannounced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, opens: “Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire held 354 detainees at the time of this inspection. Most of those held were single women … The centre has been controversial since it opened in 2001 and in recent months it has been the subject of new allegations about the treatment of women held there and the conduct of staff. We last inspected the centre in June 2013 … This inspection found that in some important areas the treatment and conditions of those held at the centre had deteriorated significantly, the main concerns we had in 2013 had not been resolved and there was greater evidence of the distress caused to vulnerable women by their detention.” Yarl’s Wood has always been bad, and now it’s `deteriorated.’

The Chief Inspector concludes, “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern … Yarl’s Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held … We have raised many of the concerns in this report before. Pregnant detainees and women with mental health problems should only be held in the most exceptional circumstances. Rule 35 processes are meant to protect people from detention when they have been tortured and traumatised or are extremely vulnerable in other ways. Staff should have the training and support they need to better understand the experiences of the women for whom they are responsible. There are not enough female staff. This inspection has also identified new concerns. Health care needs to improve urgently. Staffing levels as a whole are just too low to meet the needs of the population. Yarl’s Wood has deteriorated since our last inspection and the needs of the women held have grown. In my view, decisive action is needed to ensure women are only detained as a last resort. Procedures to ensure the most vulnerable women are never detained should be strengthened and managers held accountable for ensuring they are applied consistently. Depriving anyone of their liberty should be an exceptional and serious step. Other well-respected bodies have recently called for time limits on administrative detention. In my view, the rigorously evidenced concerns we have identified in this inspection provide strong support for these calls, and a strict time limit must now be introduced on the length of time that anyone can be administratively detained.”

None of this is new; we have raised many of the concerns before. One by one by one, women tell their stories of life, and death, inside Yarl’s Wood, and, after a momentary shuffle, Yarl’s Wood remains. A year ago today, in response to the abuse rained upon Nigerian lesbian, feminist, asylum seeker Aderonke Apata, we wrote, “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.”

365 days later, the protest numbers grow, and Yarl’s Wood stands, solid as ever.

Yarl’s Wood is part of the global economy of miserable efficiencies, in which women who seek haven are criminalized and then forced to pay for “the troubles” they have caused. From fast track in the UK to rocket dockets in the USA, time is money. The assembly line of rejected women, and children, asylum seekers, overwhelmingly racially and ethnically identified, must continually accelerate. No time for health care. These women can’t afford that, anyway. No time to hire adequate staff. These women can’t afford to pay for proper staff. Why are women seeking asylum put in prison? Because these women can’t afford to live here. That’s the law.

 

(Photo Credit: Sally Hayden / VICE News)

The women in Yarl’s Wood demand FREEDOM. Don’t you?

Movement for Justice Freedom

The women imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood wore homemade t-shirts today. The shirts said FREEDOM. Though invisible to those outside, the message was heard loud and clear. Brought together by the Movement for Justice, hundreds of people showed up at Yarl’s Wood today, with one message. FREEDOM! Shut it down now! Never open it again! Set her free! #SetHerFree #ShutItDown. Dignity! FREEDOM! The crowd united diverse communities and organizations. Women chanted from one side of the fence surrounding the prison, and the women inside Yarl’s Wood responded, amplifying the demand to shut it down, now and forever. Women inside, women formerly inside, and women never inside are organizing, and each day, their numbers grow and, more importantly, each day they grow closer and closer. A lesson of this movement to shut down immigration detention centers, once and for all, is written in diminishing spaces-between. The State chose an architecture of division and conquest, and the people responded, FREEDOM! Freedom unites. Since last year, each demonstration at Yarl’s Wood has literally been closer to the prison than the preceding one. FREEDOM is drawing nigh.

Increasingly, the women inside Yarl’s Wood are communicating directly with their sister supporters surrounding Yarl’s Wood. Today, for example, when those outside shouted, “What do you want?” The women inside responded, “We want FREEDOM!” And their shouts were heard and then broadcast. When the women inside Yarl’s Wood waved clothes, banners, signs reading SOS, they were legible to those outside. They were legible and audible because the distances-between are being eroded. Demonstrations are coming closer and closer; under cover news cameras are entering with greater facility; and former Yarl’s Wood prisoners are bringing the call for FREEDOM not only to the gates of Yarl’s Wood but also to the heart of the public.

Today, for example, Raja Khouja, 56 years old, recalled her time inside, “Along with my husband, Mahmoud, and all of the other detainees we were treated like animals. My husband is a diabetic and had his medication withheld for hours, we were unable to get the money given to us by a friend so we could contact the outside world, it was awful. There were women in there who were pregnant, or who had been detained while their children were put into the social care, and it was heart-breaking to see them just breaking down.”

In March, 2015, the women in Yarl’s Wood wore t-shirts they’d made, which read, “We are not animals.” Today, their message is shorter: FREEDOM! The women in Yarl’s Wood demand FREEDOM. Don’t you?

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.bedfordshire-news.co.uk) (Video Credit: Vimeo.com / Movement for Justice)

#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)

Sacrificing women asylum seekers on the altar of speed and convenience

 

Since 2003, those seeking asylum who come to the United Kingdom are greeted with what the State delicately refers to as the Detained Fast-Track Asylum System, or DFT. The only thing systematic in DFT is violence, and in particular violence against women. Two weeks ago, the High Court found the system unlawful and should be ended immediately. The State replied that stopping the system would be “inconvenient”, and the high court agreed, granting a stay on the order. Detention Action appealed the delay, and last Friday, the Court of Appeals agreed with them, meaning the system has to close down. The Home Office is in chaos.

The State loves throwing asylum seekers behind bars. In 2013, the latest figures available show 4,286 asylum seekers locked up, via DFT, in Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook or Harmondsworth. 4,286 human beings seeking help and haven end up in cages. In 2012, Detained Fast Track sent 2,477 asylum seekers to Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth. That’s an increase of 73% in one year. Cruelty and inhumanity are a growth industry.

This is the third time Detained Fast Track has been found unlawful. As Detention Action noted, “The High Court first ruled in July 2014 that the operation of the Detained Fast Track was at the time unlawful. Then, on 16th December 2014 the Court of Appeal found that the detention of asylum seekers who were not at risk of absconding whilst their appeals are pending was unlawful. Yet still the Fast Track continues.”

Now asylum seekers might be able to apply for bail. Having faced war, destitution, sexual violence in their home countries, and often in their homes, having made it to England only to be jailed, having often undergone further intimidation, brutality, including sexual violence, at the hands of the prison staff, these `dangers to society’ might be able to approach the shadowlands of due process. It’s not justice, but at least it’s due process.

The latest High Court trial was heard before High Court Justice Andrew Nicol, who concluded, “In my judgment the FTR [Fast Track Rules] do incorporate structural unfairness. They put the Appellant at a serious procedural disadvantage … What seems to me to make the FTR structurally unfair is the serious procedural disadvantage which comes from the abbreviated timetable and curtailed case management powers together with the imposition of this disadvantage on the appellant by the respondent to the appeal.”

Justice Nicol goes on to discuss what happens when `efficiency’ trumps justice:

“I recall that the SSHD [Secretary of State for the Home Department] opposed the TPC’s [Tribunal Procedure Committee] preliminary view that separate Fast Track Rules should be abolished and the Tribunal judiciary be left with discretion to shorten time limits either on an individual basis or through Practice Directions from the Chamber Presidents. As the TPC’s consultation document had said, `the Home Office is concerned that leaving procedures to the discretion of Tribunal Judges would not deliver the clear, consistent and truncated timetable that the current rules provide for.’

“From the perspective of an executive department that is a perfectly understandable objective, but it is not consistent with a procedural scheme which must give an element of priority to fairness and seeing that justice is done. On the contrary, it looks uncomfortably akin to what Sedley LJ in Refugee Legal Centre said should not happen, namely sacrificing fairness on the altar of speed and convenience.”

Fine words, and a good decision, but there is neither altar nor sacrifice in this tragedy. There was a determination that too many Black and Brown women – mostly African and Middle Eastern – would tip the boat, and so speed and `convenience’ justified the construction of a charnel-house network for those, and especially those women, “Black as if bereav’d of light,” whose only value is to enact death-in-life and then die, either behind bars or somewhere else. Shut it down. #SetHerFree

 

(Image Credit: Detention Action)

#SetHerFree: We want Yarl’s Wood to close, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever!

Hundreds of people showed up at Yarl’s Wood today, with one message. Shut it down now! Never open it again! Set her free! #SetHerFree. The hundreds included activists, organizers, advocates, and unusual suspects. Green Party and Conservative Party members showed up in support. Women chanted from one side of the fence surrounding the prison, and the women inside Yarl’s Wood responded, amplifying the demand to shut it down immediately and permanently. Lively protesters successfully pulled down parts of the outside perimeter fence, to the cheering of those inside as well as outside. Action unites.

The event was organized primarily by Women for Refugee Women, in coalition with other groups. Delighted at the numbers and energy of the turnout, Women for Refugee Women spokeswoman Sophie Radice commented, “The time was right for this protest because now people know what’s going on they want to take action. People come here to seek asylum and we lock them up like criminals. We will not stop campaigning until it is shut down … The atmosphere is defiant and it’s been a real show of force. We’ll carry on until the abomination that is Yarl’s Wood is shut down.”

When asked about the “problem with illegal immigration”, Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights organization Liberty, responded, “There is a problem in the world with turmoil and war and also for displaced people who need who need support and protection. But why should human rights abuses only be a justification for wars `over there’ and not refugee and human rights laws over here? … These brave women – some pregnant; some survivors of rape and torture; some suffering from mental or physical health problems – are indefinitely detained in a prison where abuse is endemic. Yarl’s Wood shames our great nation of immigrants – elsewhere criminal suspects detained without charge must be released after 14 days. Shut it down and set them free.”

As a local Conservative MP explained, 15 years ago, detention of asylum seekers was rare. Now “it’s the default.” It’s costly, ineffective, and inhumane, and that’s from a tough-on-immigration Conservative.

Yarl’s Wood is supposed to be the house of the dead, a factory that churns out packets of pain, suffering, and ultimately death. But the women of Yarl’s Wood have refused to lie down and die. They have rejected the special hell slotted for them. In 2010, at the age of 16, former Yarl’s Wood prisoner Meltem Avcil began campaigning to shut it down. In 2007, women asylum seekers banded together to take care of each other, help one another with anti-deportation campaigns, and to publicize the particulars of being a woman asylum seeker in Britain in 2007. They formed Women Asylum Seekers Together, WAST, as a women only safe space for those threatened every second of every day, women asylum seekers. Today, eight years later, they are all over the country.

Lydia Besong left Yarl’s Wood and wrote a play, How I Became an Asylum Seeker, which WAST took up and performed across the country. Nigerian lesbian feminist Aderonke Apata was dumped into Yarl’s Wood, or so they thought. She organized, founded Manchester MiSol, Manchester Migrant Solidarity, who hooked up with WAST, and today Yarl’s Wood was surrounded by chants, songs, and bodies pushing against the fence. Shut it down! Shut it down! Set her free!

Not long ago, WAST formed a choir, the Nightingales, who sing of women’s rights, women’s power, women’s dreams, and they begin, but it’s only a beginning, with this: “We want Yarl’s Wood to close, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever”. Sing it loud, sing it proud, shut it down, set her free, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever. Amen.

 

(Photo Credit: David Horn / eXtreme / Bedfordshire News) (Video Credit: Channel 4 / YouTube)