A mass hunger strike by migrant women detained at Yarl's Wood immigration prison in Bedfordshire has been ongoing since 5th February, 2010.
The hunger strike, which involved some 84 women at the start, was sparked by detainees demanding that "the frustration and humiliation of all foreign nationals [in detention] ends now".
On 8th February, a violet attempt by Serco security guards to break up the protest saw 70 women being locked in a corridor for up to 8 hours without access to food, water, toilet or medical care. Many collapsed and about 20, who climbed out of a window, were beaten up and taken into isolation cells [:: detainee's account]. :: Four of the women, singled out as 'ringleaders', were :: taken to Bedford police station and subsequently transferred to HMP Holloway prison in London, without being charged with any offence or brought before a judge.
A number of protests in solidarity with the hunger strikers have taken place. On 10th February, students and campaigners held a :: two-day solidarity hunger strike at the London offices of Serco, the private security company that runs Yarl's Wood. Two days later, on 12th February, a :: noisy demo was held outside Serco's offices, with around 50 people present. 84 Northwest No Borders activists also took part in a :: 24-hour fast in solidarity with the 84 detainees on hunger strike. 66 people in Bradford also took part in a :: one-day solidarity hunger strike. On 17th February, a protest was held outside HMP Holloway in solidarity with the 'Yarl's Wood four'. On 21st February, a protester was held inside the perimeters of Yarl's Wood [:: press release | :: pics].
A public meeting on the Yarl's Wood hunger strike and ongoing solidarity and support on :: Thursday, 25th February and another protest at the Serco offices in London has been :: called for Friday, 26th February.
A :: similar mass hunger strike in Yarl's Wood in June last year was met with :: violent assaults on detainees by Serco security guards. Again, a :: solidarity protest was held at the company's offices in London, where protesters sneaked a look at its :: 'protest response plan'.
"We are weak and tired but we are still going to continue...
...because people need to know what is happening here."
The women in Yarl's Wood are well into the third week of their hunger strike and doctors have warned that the core of the women who have been refusing food for what is now 19 days now risk doing themselves long-term damage to their health. As many as 30 are still refusing food and taking only a little sugar water to stave off the dizzy spells they are all suffering.
At the beginning of this campaign, the mainstream media were all to a certain degree (usually based on the degree of 'sympathy' their editorial line would allow them to display), yet most seem to have dropped the story (with the honourable exception of :: the Guardian) following the UKBA briefing that the 4 'ring leaders' had been removed and the 'incident resolved' on Monday, 8th February. This fiction was :: repeated in the House of Lords on 22nd February.
However, the women inside and their supporters outside know this to be a lie and have tried to help maintain a public profile for the hunger strike as the mainstream media attention has waned.
The Yarl's Wood hunger strikers' demands:
- End the frustrations, physical and mental torture at the centre.
- Allow enough time and make resources available to residents who need to fully present their cases.
- To end all false allegations and misrepresentations by the UKBA regarding detainees in order to refuse bail or temporary admissions.
- Access to appropriate medical treatment and care as in the community, access to edible and well cooked food, phones with good mobile connections, with camera and recording facilities to back up cases.
- To stop the forceful removal and degrading system of deportation of detainees.
- To put law into practise, European rules governing standard of conditions of detention for migrants and asylum seekers and the length of time in detention.
- The abolition of detention for asylum seeker and torture victims.
- Detention should be by a standard procedure prescribed by law, authorised by judicial authority and be subjected to periodic judicial reviews.
- To end the detention of children and their mothers, rape survivors and other torture victims, to end the detention of physically, mentally sick people and pregnant women for long period of time.
- To end the separation of children from their mothers being detained whether in detention or destitution.
- To end the detention of women detention after serving time in prison.
- To abolish the fast track system, in order to give asylum seekers a fair chance with their application, while understanding the particular needs of victims of torture, and access to reliable legal representation which the fast track system denies.
- To end the repeat detention of women granted temporary admission while reporting or signing after a short period out of detention.
- To a set period of time allowed to detain women, which should be no longer than 1 month, while waiting decision either from UKBA or court proceedings.
- Finally, instead of detention of foreign nationals, there are alternatives to detention stated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), :: The detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe, adopted on 28th January, 2010, extracts below.
9.1.1. detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants shall be exceptional and only used after first reviewing all other alternatives and finding that there is no effective alternative;
18.104.22.168. placement in special establishments (open or semi-open);
22.214.171.124. registration and reporting;
126.96.36.199. release on bail/surety;
188.8.131.52. controlled release to individuals, family members, NGOs, religious organisations, or others;
184.108.40.206. handover of travel and other documents, release combined with appointment of a special worker.