Demand freedom for Dianne Ngoza! #SetHerFree

Dianne Ngoza

Dianne Ngoza

Why does the English government hate Dianne Ngoza? What horrible crime has she committed that the State has chosen to persecute, seize and cage her inside Yarl’s Wood? Is it the crime of seeking asylum, or the crime of being a Black woman, or the crime of being an African woman? Yes. Dianne Ngoza has been a campaigner for the human rights and dignity of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the so-called United Kingdom. Based in Manchester, she is a member of management volunteers for Women Asylum Seekers Together, WAST; a lead member of United for Change; a trustee for City of Sanctuary; and has been a board member of Manchester Migrant Solidarity, MiSol. Dianne Ngoza is an assistant for Revive UK, which works with refugees and asylum seekers. At Revive, Dianne Ngoza is in charge of arranging drama and acts as a public speaker and representative. Recently Dianne Ngoza joined the leadership team of RAPAR, Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research. Dianne Ngoza was one of four nominees for the 2016 Spirit of Manchester Volunteer of the Year Award. Additionally, Dianne Ngoza has been nominated for a 2016 National Diversity Award, in the Positive Role Model Award – Race/Faith/Religion category. Dianne Ngoza is clearly a dangerous woman.

Dianne Ngoza was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the age of six, part of her family fled the political violence and ended up in Zambia. Dianne Ngoza was raised in Zambia. In 1994, she moved to South Africa, where she was granted permanent residence. In 2002, Dianne Ngoza was offered a two-year work permit to work as a nurse in the United Kingdom. Six months later, she brought her then 11-year-old daughter to live with her. They have both lived in England since 2002. Dianne Ngoza has not been to Zambia since 1994, and has no one there, and yet the United Kingdom wants to ship her “back” to Zambia.

The story only worsens: “In 2004, before my visa expired, I went to Liverpool to renew it. The immigration officer there told me to send my daughter, who was then 13, back to South Africa, and sort out her visa first. We couldn’t afford to do this. When I sought legal help, my lawyer said that he was going to apply for both us to gain leave to remain under section 8 of the human rights act: right to family life. However he incorrectly applied for asylum instead – and this was unsurprisingly rejected. This whole process took four years, during which time I was forbidden from working. I became increasingly dependent on help from the community. My daughter remained with me all this time. In 2008 new lawyers took over my case. Although they told me that they had made the application for my leave to remain, I never received a letter from the Home Office confirming this. Only in 2010 did the Home Office confirm that no application had been made on my behalf. That same year, my child and I were evicted and became homeless. I have been destitute and homeless for the past six years.”

Through legislation and public policy, the State created the State of Destitution – a zone of economic, political, social and human abandonment – and declared African women as its citizens. For six years, Dianne Ngoza has rejected that citizenship, and has turned destitution into the richness of advocacy for human, civil and women’s rights and dignity.

This week, Dianne Ngoza went to the Dallas Court Reporting Centre in Salford. Before entering, she told a crowd of supporters, “The immigration problem has risen to its highest level than it has before, it’s not surprising that most people have become insensitive to deaths, of human lives. We live in a world where evil has taken the upper hand … Let us think of those who are drowning each day while trying to flee wars in their countries; the poor parents who have lost their children, the children who didn’t have the opportunity to contribute to society by fulfilling their dreams. I can never imagine the pain they go through each passing day. Although I’m one of those who has lost some of my loved ones through reckless wars, I find it hard to comprehend. We can all do something to change the system which is comprised of a handful of rich people in high positions that are controlling the whole world. It’s up to each one of us … as long as we are consistent and never lose hope we can make a difference. Let us fight for all the generations around the world that are suffering in silence. Let us be the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Dianne Ngoza never emerged from the Dallas Court Reporting Centre. Instead, she was smuggled to Yarl’s Wood where she awaits deportation to Zambia. The Salford Star reached Home Affairs and asked: “Why was Dianne detained at Dallas Court when her lawyers were filing new evidence and `proofs’ at the time? Why were supporters and family, and Dianne herself, informed that she was being taken to Pennine House in Manchester, when she was actually being taken to Yarl’s Wood? Is there any avenues left for Dianne to remain in the country while her case is heard?”

Home Affairs responded, “We expect people with no legal basis to remain in the UK to leave the country voluntarily, and we provide support to help people return to their home country. Where they refuse to do so we will seek to enforce their removal.”

Let us fight for all the generations around the world that are suffering in silence. Let us be the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak for themselves. Let us reject the torture that passes for support. Let us abolish the State of Destitution, the zone of abandonment. Let us join with the WAST choir, the Nightingales, who sing of women’s rights, women’s power, women’s dreams, and who begin their songs 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 1: RAPAR) (Photo Credit 2: Salford Star)

The time for concern is over. Shut Yarl’s Wood down today!

Last year, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded a report on Yarl’s Wood: “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.” Over the weekend, it was reported that the Home Office refused to reveal how many women have been raped or sexually assaulted because “disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests” of companies that run Yarl’s Wood. Serco runs Yarl’s Wood, and G4S provides Yarl’s Wood health services. Today, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner demanded that the Home Office release information about the number of pregnant women held in immigration detention, which would mean primarily Yarl’s Wood. This demand comes after months of the Home Office refusing to answer questions, refusing to acknowledge that questions and requests have been made. When it comes to women, the only thing that counts is corporate and State profit. Mass produced illegality is big business, generally. The big business of women’s illegality has been secured in black sites in our backyards. Across the suburban spectrum of so-called liberal representative democracies, women asylum seekers are being renditioned.

Yarl’s Wood is filled with pregnant women, women trauma survivors, lesbian women, African women, women torture survivors, women seeking help, and it is as it has always been, a special “hell on earth” designed to torture precisely those women. Ira Putilova, a Russian LGBTQ activist who sought asylum in England and was thrown into Yarl’s Wood, reflected on the case of Prossie N, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist who was deported to Uganda: “We came and left, but Yarl’s Wood stayed and we should do something with it. Help people inside. … Because borders and detention centres should disappear and all homophobes and racists should be sent to the moon! Fuck them! Free Prossie N!”

Borders and detentions centers must disappear. This is the inhuman geography of purchased security, in which the State acts as nothing more than the bouncer at the door of the global club of “commercial interests.” The time for “concern” is over. Yarl’s Wood is a black site in which women are being abused in an ever growing infinite of ways. It is an abomination, and it is being replicated everywhere. Tear it down … now. Shut Yarl’s Wood and its fraternal order of detention centers across the “free world” today.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Establishment) (Photo Credit 2: BBC News)

Mabel Gawanas demands FREEDOM! #SetHerFree

08/01/16 Pixelated 04/01/16 Yarlswood.A Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre detainee is taken to a hospital appointment in hand cuffs. Pic by Keiron Hillhouse

Mabel Gawanas is taken to hospital in handcuffs

Why does the English government hate Mabel Gawanas? What horrible crime has she committed that the State has chosen to persecute and cage her for close on to two years? Mabel Gawanas has been in Yarl’s Wood for 22 months for the crime of having sought freedom and safety. Last week, the State moved to deport Mabel Gawanas. Thanks to her organizing and that of supporters in Movement for Justice, Black Sox, and Sisters Uncut, her ticket was cancelled. While that is great news, the idea that being sent back to prison is great news is an apt description of the current moment of State-sponsored violence against and torture of women. This week, Mabel’s daughter, Alexandra, born in England and a citizen of the European Union, turned seven years old. Who will restore those years to Mabel and Alexandra?

Mabel Gawanas is 42 years old and comes from Namibia. Orphaned as a young child, Mabel Gawanas was forced to work as a child minder when she was herself only a child. She says she was beaten, raped and abused by members of her extended family. Finally, she fled the violence. In 2006, she went to the United Kingdom, where, again, she was trapped in a family home. Mabel Gawanas has lived with mental illness for years. According to many, her mental health conditions arise largely from the violence she has endured.

Subjected to the trials of Job, Mabel Gawanas has survived with dignity, and has been rewarded with prison and worse: “I came here as a victim of torture, I was sexually abused by my own family and I am a victim of trafficking … I’ve been offered a place to stay – but I’ve been refused bail three times. Why would I run away from the people who are giving me somewhere to live? I would rather die than be deported. I am so frustrated, I should be bringing up my daughter.”

Mabel Gawanas has been one of the lead organizers of women held in Yarl’s Wood. Last year, when she discovered that she would be taken to medical appointments in handcuffs, she organized the press to come photograph and interview women prisoners in transit. In another instance, she stopped a Kenyan woman from being deported: “We protested when a woman who was tortured in Kenya, and all her family tortured or dead, was due to be deported. Ten of us filled her room with furniture so she missed her flight. She was later freed; we saved her that day.”

According to Movement for Justice, “Mabel is the foremost freedom fighter, leader and organiser of women imprisoned in the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre, a role model for every woman struggling for justice against Britain’s inhuman and racist immigration. She is one of the leaders who have made Yarl’s Wood the central battleground in the fight for women’s rights and the right of asylum in Britain … She has been a leader in every struggle in Yarl’s Wood from the protests that followed the Channel 4 exposures in March last year, and she has always been an active part of the Yarl’s Wood Movement for Justice group. She is a leader for women of every nationality in Yarl’s Wood – from every part of Africa, from India, Bangladesh, China, Eastern Europe etc. She has been organising the protests and placards at the windows on every one of the Surround Harmondsworth demonstrations since April 2015; people at the 12 th March demonstration heard Mabel speak over the phone and saw the large placard she held at the window, denouncing the sexual abuse of women by male guards. Mabel has been central to making the fight inside the centre more organised. She was part of the 3-day courtyard protest by over 100 women in the run-up to September’s parliamentary debate on detention, and organised successful collective action to support get a Chinese detainee taken to hospital. In November and March she organised women of different nationalities to defend Nigerian & Ghanaian women who were collectively resisting deportation. Both charter flights had to leave without any of those women on board.”

The English government hates Mabel Gawanas because she is a freedom fighter. She brings to light the brutality of Yarl’s Wood, immigrant detention and prison more generally. She calls out the State’s violence against women, which begins with a policy of disbelief in women and ends with the torture of indefinite detention. She demonstrates the special hell the State has constructed for African women, and for all women inside. Mabel Gawanas demands FREEDOM. Free Mabel Gawanas! #SetHerFree #ShutItDown

 

(Photo Credit 1: Bedfordshire on Sunday) (Photo Credit 2: Bedfordshire News)

In prisons, jails and detention centers, the bodies pile up: Who cares?

Harmondsworth, 2006

According to a report released today, 2015 recorded “the highest number of executions … in more than 25 years (since 1989).” Along with the `highest number of executions”, many jails, prisons and immigrant detention centers are experiencing the highest number and the highest rates of suicide. Once more into the global work of necropower: “In our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.” Welcome to the necropolis.

In the United Kingdom, the number of suicide attempts in “immigration removal” centers is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were 393 attempted suicides recorded. Harmondsworth topped the list at 105. Yarl’s Wood came in second at 64. In 2014, there were 353 attempted suicides. Harmondsworth led again with 68, and, again, Yarl’s Wood came in second with 61. In 2015, 2,957 detainees were on suicide watch during 2015. Of that number, 11 are children.

Meanwhile, in 2014, prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high. The Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales found a 64% increase in self-inflicted deaths in custody over the previous year. There is no surprise in either the seven-year high in prisons in England and Wales, nor in the all-time high in immigrant detention centers.

In the United States, during the Obama administration, there have been 56 deaths in ICE custody. These include six suicides and at least one death after an attempted suicide. Eloy Detention Center, in Eloy, Arizona, holds pride of place in this race to the bottom. As of July 2015, 9 percent of detention deaths nationwide since 2003 occurred at Eloy, where 14 of the 152 total deaths occurred. In 2013, women prisoners in Eloy went on hunger strike to protest the conditions. As Thesla Zenaida, an Eloy hunger striker, explained: “Look, a girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here. [After] she was hanged, they didn’t want to take her body down. And for the same reason—because they treat us poorly. A guard treated her poorly, and that guard is still working here.” And now, three years later, people still ask, “Why so many suicides?

Meanwhile, in 2015, the Arizona prison system recorded close to 500 attempts at self-harm and suicide, another record broken.

In Illinois, in the Kane County jail, the suicide rate is three times the national average, and no one on staff seems to care. In August 2013, Terry Ann Hart hung herself in the Kane County jail. Now, almost three years later, her daughter is taking the county and the sheriff to court. In a little over a year, Kane County had three suicides and one attempt, while nearby larger jails had no suicides from 2011 to 2015. Terry Ann Hart’s daughter wants to know how it’s possible for so many people to kill themselves and for no one to be held accountable and for nothing whatsoever to change inside the jail.

The family of Wakiesha Wilson, who died in the Los Angeles County Jail last month, has similar questions. How did their loved one die, and why did the State take so long to inform them? From Harmondsworth and Yarl’s Wood to Eloy Detention and Kane County and Los Angeles, and beyond, women are dropping like flies, and their families ask, “Why?” and “Who cares?

In France, due to two recent high profile prison suicides, people are asking why the rate of suicide in French prisons is so high. Coincidentally, a report released this week notes, “Suicide rates in French prisons are higher than in the general population – seven times as high … According to the French government, there were 113 suicides in French prisons in 2015 … Female prisoners with psychosocial disabilities face particularly harsh conditions in French prisons. Women in general, who are a minority in prison, are more restricted in their movements than men and have less access to treatment for mental health conditions than their male counterparts. Women detained in a prison with separate quarters for female and male prisoners described … how, unlike the men in the same facility, they had to be escorted in all their movements. Besides making them feel isolated, this gives women the sense that they are treated more harshly only because they are women. Female prisoners also face discrimination in their access to mental healthcare: while 26 Regional Medico Psychological Services (SMPR) in French prisons provide mental healthcare during the day and beds for the night, only one of them has beds for women.”

From executions to prison suicides, these numbers are the census of the death-world, where now what is blurred is the line between the living dead and the dead dead. Record-breaking numbers of suicides occur, and nobody knows? How much higher must the piles of women’s corpses rise before the `discoveries’ end and the work of justice begins? Look, a girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here. ¡Ni una mas! Not one more!

 

(Photo Credit: Institute of Race Relations)

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)

Honor Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf by shutting down the detention centers

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf

In England, today, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) joined a local ngo, Migrants Organise, to award Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf the Woman of the Year Award. Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf fled Somalia years ago, landing up in Kenya, and then moved on to the United Kingdom. She knew no English, had no friends or acquaintances there, and knew nothing about asylum processes. She just knew she deserved to live with dignity and respect. Yusuf left her family, in particular her children, behind, and has not been able to contact them. Par for the course, Yusuf was dumped in Yarl’s Wood, days after arriving, and then denied asylum. She’s been appealing that decision for eight years. During the asylum process, the applicant cannot work, and so Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf is meant to beg. But instead she sings and speaks out and organizes. She is the woman of the year, and it is a year, another year, of shame and hope.

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf moved to Manchester, found a place to live with other women asylum seekers, and joined WAST, Women Asylum Seekers Together. Together, Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf and her sisters have called, sung, stamped, chanted and organized to shut down Yarl’s Wood, and to shut down all detention centers. From Australia to the United Kingdom to the United States, abolition is in the air, and its current stations are immigrant detention centers. A global forest of hashtags is sprouting, from #ShutDownBerks to #ShutDownYarlsWood and #SetHerFree to #LetThemStay, individuals are forming local groups that are becoming national organizations that are becoming international, from Juntos to Women for Refugee Women and Movement for Justice to the International Alliance Against Mandatory Detention, made up of Australian activists living around the world. Another world is possible.

As nation-States built more and more special hells for women asylum seekers and for immigrant and migrant women, generally, the women organized and said, NO! We are not animals, we are humans. We are not trash, we are women. They also spoke for their children, who were daily being crushed by the prison experience. Their children cry out, “I am not a criminal. I don’t want to be locked up here anymore.”

The abuse of children in detention centers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States is torture, and it’s a crime against humanity, which is being called out and judged now. When a judge says that 3- and 4-year-old children can represent themselves in court, he has done more than condemn the process. He has shown what happens to the rule of law when it discounts the humanity of those who enter not only the court, but also the land itself. His tortured logic emerges as part of a systematic application of torture as a form of reasoned jurisprudence.

That system of torture is global, and it focuses on women and children.

Berks is inhumane and abusive, and even the lawmakers say so. Yarl’s Wood is a house of shame. Nauru, Villawood and all the Australian solutions to the crisis of human beings seeking help are one giant pit of disgrace. In each case, the arc of atrocity is expanding, infecting structures from education to health care but also the ways in which we view one another and ourselves. The debt that the abuse of asylum seekers creates is trauma for the asylum seekers and daily and increasing loss of our humanity.

Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf is the woman of the year, because another world is possible. Tomorrow, led by Movement for Justice, thousands will gather around Yarl’s Wood and raise a ruckus. Thousands are organizing across the United States to shut down Berks, Dilley and Karnes as well. Across Australia, people are organizing not only to shut down the detention centers and the entire juridical apparatus that feeds the monster. They are wondering if this is “the moment” in which we will join in solidarity, across oceans and borders. Maybe it is. One thing is certain. We’ve passed enough-is-enough. The time is now. #ShutDownYarlsWood #SetHerFree #LetThemStay #ShutDownBerks #Not1More #NeverAgain Do it for Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf, and for all the women and children. Until the prisons are closed, we are all imprisoned.

 

(Photo Credit: WorldPost / Rifat Ahmed) (Video Credit: Women for Refugee Women / YouTube)

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)

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)