What happens in immigration detention stays in immigration detention

This is a story of whistleblowers in the land where there are no whistles and ears are forbidden. That land is called “immigration detention”. In different places, it goes by different names. Yarl’s Wood in England. Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros, or CIE, in Spain. The names change, but the structures and situations are the same. “Immigration detention” is a country, and it’s global.

In September, there was yet another story about systematic sexual predation at Yarl’s Wood. This time it was Tanja’s story, an account that only made it to the public because of the tenacity, perseverance and creativity of Tanja, who just kept on pushing. Yarl’s Wood is a designed community in which staff preys upon the most vulnerable, typically young women fleeing sexual violence. Remember, the Yarl’s Wood prison population is almost 90% women, while men make up almost half the staff. The police yet again said they would conduct an investigation. The real story here is the story of the story, the fact that Tanja could get the story out at all. And that story continues.

Since Tanja’s story broke, all hell has broken loose, and by hell is meant silence. First it was Sirah Jeng, a 59-year-old Gambian, who said she could corroborate Tanja’s story. Her reward? In November she was informed, with barely any notice, that she should get ready for imminent deportation … hours before her scheduled appointment with investigating police. That was November.

This month, Afolashade Lamidi, 40-year-old Nigerian, also confirmed parts of Tanja’s accounts, and then some. And she received the same treatment as Sirah Jeng. She was promised the opportunity of forced return to Nigeria.

This is in so many ways a common story. In Spain this month, Aramis Manukyan, known by his friends and now the world as Alik, was “found dead in his cell.” Alik was a 42-year-old Armenian, a father of a 7-year-old daughter. Found dead in his cell was immediately translated into suicide, despite various testimonies to the contrary. Prisoners reported from different floors that they could her Alik’s cries, but no matter. He committed suicide.

After much pressure from the usual suspects like SOS Racismo, Cerramos los CIE (Close the CIE) and Migra Studium, the police, yet again, say they would conduct an investigation. And that’s when the two key witnesses were deported.

For every Tanja and every Alik there are tens, hundreds, thousands of neighbors and friends, prisoners all. There are witnesses in prison, and they are not the kings or queens in the land of the blind. They are the witnesses in the land of the blinded. They are the whistleblowers in the land where whistles are prohibited and hearing is a crime. Remember, what happens in immigration detention stays, or dies, in immigration detention.


(Photo Credit: Guy Corbishley / Demotix / Corbis / The Guardian)

Let a thousand Yarl’s Woods blossom, and may the women be damned

Evenia Mawongera


On Friday, Zimbabwean activist, outspoken critic of Robert Mugabe’s regime, grandmother, long-time resident of Leicester, England, Evenia Mawongera made her weekly visit to the Border Agency. She shows up each week because she’s applying for asylum. Mawongera was detained, held and then shipped off to Yarl’s Wood, where she now awaits deportation.

Evenia Mawongera has lived in England for a decade. She went to England, fleeing persecution in Zimbabwe. She went to Leicester because her two daughters lived there. They had gone to University in England and had been allowed to stay. The daughters have lived in England since 1999. Mawongera has no family left in Zimbabwe.  Her daughters and her grandchildren are all British citizens.

By all accounts, since her arrival, Mawongera has been a model and exemplary person. A little over three weeks ago, Evenia Mawongera was awarded the Good Neighbour Award for her many contributions to the community.

And now she sits in Yarl’s Wood.

And what exactly is Yarl’s Wood? It’s Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, and, as we’ve written many times, it’s a bad place, and a particularly bad place for women: Mojirola Daniels, Aisha, Denise McNeil, Gladys Obiyan, Sheree Wilson, Shellyann Stupart, Aminata Camara, Leila. Bita Ghaedi. Azbaa Dar. Gloria Sestus. Brenda Namigadde. Betty Tibikawa. Lemlem Hussein Abdu. Marie Therese Njila Nana. Jackie Nanyonjo. Roseline Akhalu.

It’s only a partial list, which doesn’t include the names of those who must remain anonymous, to `protect’ their identities, nor the widows and widowers and children. Others have written as well of the sexual predation, of the abuse of pregnant women that takes place in Yarl’s Wood.

For example, yesterday, Tanja’s story broke. Yet another story revealed the systematic sexual predation that is the bread and butter of Yarl’s Wood. Yarl’s Wood is a designed community in which staff preys upon the most vulnerable, typically young women fleeing sexual violence. The police yet again say they will conduct an investigation.

For some, Yarl’s Wood isn’t the disease, it’s the symptom. Others have named the disease: evil. A building whose express purpose is `removal’ is a factory that produces sexual violence, torture, despair and death. It’s in the architecture of the mission. If human beings are just so much dross to be removed, then vulnerable human beings, and especially vulnerable women, are less and worse than disposable, and they are less and worse than despicable.

And this is where Evenia Mawongera sits today.

Yarl’s Wood is part of a global political economy in which vulnerability is a natural resource, meant for exploitation and abuse. Yarl’s Wood is meant for export. Just last week, the newly elected Australian government announced its plans to emulate the fast-track immigrant `processing scheme’ of the United Kingdom. Let a thousand Yarl’s Woods blossom, and may the women be damned, each and every one.


(Photo Credit: The South African)