Why does the English government hate Kelechi Chioba?

Why does the English government hate 36-year-old Kelechi Chioba? What horrible crime has she committed? The same crime committed by other immigrant women of color: Mabel Gawanas, Dianne Ngoza, Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, Irene Clennell, Chennan Fei, to name only the most recent. Is it that Kelechi Chioba lives with physical disabilities and mental health issues? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a disability rights activist and fiercely independent? Is it that Kelechi Chioba applied for asylum? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a Black African woman? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a queer woman? Is it that Kelechi Chiobia is a queer Black African woman? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a Black Nigerian woman? Yes, to each and all of the above. Each attribute is another “crime” committed against the State, and so Kelechi Chioba has been told to prepare for Yarl’s Wood and then for the long trip “home”, to the place where she was deemed a “curse” and beaten and abandoned. That’s why it’s called criminal justice.

Kelechi Chioba’s story is one of self-determination and autonomy. Living with polio and scoliosis, Kelechi Chioba was viewed as a “curse” by her family, in particular by her father. She was beaten by family members. In response, she decided to work, save her money, and go to England to study. While working and saving, she was sexually abused at work. Desperate, she attempted suicide. Finally, Kelechi Chioba saved enough money to pay for her visa and fees, and moved to England, in 2011, where she studied hospital, health and social care at the University of Wolverhampton. When Kelechi Chioba arrived in England, she used crutches, but by 2014, her physical condition had changed such that she became wheelchair reliant. She needed operations. Her arm deteriorated, which meant she needed an electric wheelchair. Every step of the way, Kelechi Chioba paid her way. For that reason, in 2014, she had to suspend classes. At that point, Kelechi Chioba applied for asylum.

During her time at Wolverhampton, and since, Kelechi Chioba has been a prominent and leading activist. For example, in 2014, she signed an open letter supporting the right to free education. Her signature read: “Kelechi Chioba, Black students’ committee and disabled students’ rep, NUS”. She has worked continually for the National Union of Students (NUS) Disabled Students Campaign and Black Students Campaign. As Kelechi Chioba explains, ““I’m someone who believes that disability is not the same as incapability. I believe that I can do things with my life. I want to make a change, I want to progress. When I came to the UK the education system inspired me to become an activist. Thanks to the freedoms this culture offers me, I now have the courage to talk about what happened to me, and I want to help other victims of violence and abuse to talk about their experiences.”

Kelechi Chioba organizes and encourages, and she and her supporters wait to see what happens next. This week, Liz Truss, the “Justice” Secretary, proposed a new fast track system for asylum seekers. The last fast track system was an atrocity, but that doesn’t matter. In a global economy of miserable efficiencies, in which women who seek haven are criminalized and then forced to pay for “the troubles” they have caused. Fast track is just another way of proving time is money, and Black women’s lives are cheap. Why does the English government hate Kelechi Chioba? Because she wants to help create a world in which a disabled Black queer woman living with mental health concerns can live happily and productively, with dignity and self-respect. And that desire is a crime. #SaveKelechi

(Photo Credit: YouCaring)

Why does the English government hate Chennan Fei?

Chennan Fei

Why does the English government hate 28-year-old Chennan Fei? What horrible crime has she committed? The same crime committed by other immigrant women of color: Mabel Gawanas, Dianne Ngoza, Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell, to name a few. Chennan Fei is blameless. She has done everything right, and, in the spectacle of State intimidation of immigrant women of color, that counts for less than nothing.

In 2002, Chennan Fei, then 13 years old, was brought by her parents to Scotland. Her parents were on student visas. Chennan Fei grew up in Glasgow, attended school there and university in Edinburgh, developed a community of friends, fell in love in Glasgow and thrived. Glasgow is Chennan Fei’s home.

Unbeknownst to Chennan Fei, her parents’ visa expired a few years after their arrival. Then, in 2012, the then-Home Secretary Theresa May announced new, stringent restrictions on immigrants. Tucked into the new menu was the withdrawal of Paragraph 276B(i)(b) of the Immigration Rules, which allowed for settlement in the United Kingdom after 14 years’ residence. With that, Chennan Fei was thrown into limbo, and, until recently, she had no idea.

On March 23, Chennan Fei was arrested and taken to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre. On March 25, she was moved to Yarl’s Wood and told she would be deported to China today, Wednesday, March 29.

While in Yarl’s Wood, Chennan Fei wrote: “It’s a strange feeling. Although they say it’s not a prison, I am trapped. My mind and my body wants to be liberated. I can’t seem to remember much from the last few days, and this agonising feeling just grows stronger every passing day. Being here is mind numbing, I see others losing track of the date and time. I just hope I don’t have to stay here too long. I want to come home to Scotland.”

Her partner Duncan Harkness says: “Chennan …  is deeply loved by a wide circle of friends and family … As Chennan moved to the UK as a young child, she has no friends, family or contacts in China. It would be inhumane to deport her back to a country where she has no support, nowhere to stay and no family to provide assistance.”

Chennan Fei’s local MP, Anne McLaughlin, says, “I met Chennan 18 months ago when she visited my Glasgow North East constituency to explain the circumstances surrounding her current immigration status. I was very impressed with this sensitive, intelligent young woman. Although, there is no rule or provision in the Immigration Act that deals directly with the ‘children’ of over-stayers, for Chennan to be exiled from all her friends and family in the UK is an extremely harsh decision for the Home Office to make. Chennan is now 28 years old and has lived more than half her life in Scotland. She has a Scottish partner and most definitely established a strong ‘private life’ here. Although her almost 15 years living in the UK may not be considered ‘legal’, this is through no fault of Chennan’s. She is blameless.”

Her attorney Usman Aslam, agrees, “Chennan, despite having funded her education from her own resources, having attained a degree in accountancy through the University of Edinburgh and having integrated within society and being involved in community activities, was still considered as someone who should be sent away from Scotland. The decision shocked a number of local groups with which she had volunteered. Chennan hopes to ultimately be granted leave to remain so that she can look forward to her life in the community and country that she loves.”

A friend, Annette Christie, started a petition, “Help Chennan Fei stay in Scotland“. Thus far, over 2000 people have signed. Please consider adding your name.

On Tuesday night, Chennan Fei was given a temporary reprieve, and today returned by train to Glasgow. She now awaits her next court appearance. Who benefits from such persecution? This form of structural and immediate brutality etches into the body and soul of the blameless, the individuals and their communities, that, despite all evidence to the contrary, they are the ones who bear the blame, the ones who dared to call this place home. That’s why the English government hates Chennan Fei. #SaveChennanFei

(Photo Credit: Change.org)

Why does England hate Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell?

Irene Clennell

Why does the English government hate Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell? What horrible crime has each committed? Individually, each woman’s story shows a State built of shameful violence against women. Taken together, the collective story of Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell shows a State in which “callous attitudes towards immigrants” entails expanding and intensifying evil, a key part of which is the humdrum ordinariness of the women’s stories. What happened and is happening to Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah and Irene Clennell happens every day and all the time. It is the State unguent that keeps the everyday together.

More than 30 years ago, Erioth Mwesigwa’s husband was suspected of opposing Milton Obote, the then-President of Uganda. Her husband escaped and made it to England, where he was given asylum. Erioth Mwesigwa stayed, was imprisoned and raped by soldiers. Finally, Erioth Mwesigwa escaped prison and went into hiding. She changed hiding places repeatedly. Her godfather, who hid her at one point, was killed.  In 2002, Erioth Mwesigwa fled Uganda and made her way to England. She has lived in England for nearly 14 years. Recently, she was detained and sent to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. On February 10, guards came to take her to the airport and “remove” her to Uganda. Erioth Mwesigwa reportedly politely but firmly declined the invitation. The guards backed off, threatening to return with more force.

Erioth Mwesigwa has been an active, vocal and visible member of the All African Women’s Group, a self-help group of women asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees, formed in 2003. Erioth Mwesigwa called the All African Women’s Group and left this message: “I do not understand why the Home Office gave refugee status to my ex-husband, who thankfully was able to escape with our children before anything terrible happened, yet refuses it to me when I was the one unable to get out in time and so suffered the terrible consequences. It took many years for me to escape from Uganda after the imprisonment and rapes. I lived those years in constant fear; hiding from place to place, rarely leaving the house and only in darkness. I had lost all hope, self-confidence, and nearly my mind. Finally I was found and ordered to make my husband come back to Uganda. My friends told me that I would be killed and organized my escape to the UK. It is here that I have found people who love and care for me. The men who abused me in Uganda are still in positions of authority. I can never go back and be safe.”

Shiromini Satkunarajah studies engineering at Bangor University and is an exceptional student. Shiromini Satkunarajah arrived in the United Kingdom eight years ago, at the age of 12. She worked hard, studied hard, and planned hard. She, her father and mother had fled the civil war in Sri Lanka, and had arrived on her father’s student visa. When her father died, in 2011, she and her mother, Roshani, were allowed to stay so as to complete her studies. On February 21, they appeared for their regular sign-in and were informed that Shiromini Satkunarajah’s application for full student visa was denied. The two were taken home to pack, taken back to the local police station where they were held for two days, and then carted off to Yarl’s Wood, where they were told they would be shipped off to Sri Lanka, Tuesday, February 28.

More than 165,000 people signed a petition to overturn the petition. Her local Member of Parliament waged a mighty campaign within the halls of the legislature. Clergy and other prominent figures lobbied and urged. At the eleventh hour, Shiromini Satkunarajah were told they would be set free, and that Shiromini Satkunarajah could return to her studies.

On Sunday, February 26, Irene Clennell was forcibly put on a plane to Singapore.

Irene Clennell moved to England in 1988. Two years later, she met and married an Englishman, John. They have two children together, and one grandchild, all in England. For the past few years, Irene Clennell has been the primary carer for her husband, who has suffered various major illnesses. Starting in 1990, Irene Clennell was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK. During that time, she spent periods in Singapore caring for her parents before they died. Recently passed laws require that a couple can demonstrate long periods of uninterrupted time living in the United Kingdom. Because Irene Clennell took care of her parents when they were dying, she was picked up, carted off to Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre, in Scotland, and from there, with £12 in her pocket and the clothes on her back, she was shipped off to Singapore.

Now the 53-year-old grandmother, mother, wife sits in Singapore and gives interviews, organizes, waits, and hopes: “If there are enough people fighting and giving support, I think I will get back to Britain.”

On Monday, February 20, hundreds called for Erioth Mwesigwa to be set free. Shiromini Satkunarajah was set free, thanks to the intervention of close to 200,000 people. Irene Clennell now relies on the work of “enough people fighting” to have her set free. This is the new face of the old White Male Supremacist Imperial State. For non-native born women of color, “freedom” must be purchased, with actual money and with the labor time of hundreds of thousands. The English government hates Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell because hatred pays.

Shiromini Satkunarajah

 

(Photo Credit 1: Laura Gallant / Buzzfeed) {Photo Credit 2: Wales On Line)

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)