The Yarl’s Wood hunger strike is a wake-up call for the UK’s ‘inhumane’ detention policy

Support us and go ad-free

Over 100 women are staging a hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in protest against indefinite detention and “inhumane” conditions. Many women in the centre are victims of rape or gender-based violence. Some detainees have spent over a year in the facility without a decision on their asylum.

Not the first time

On 23 February, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott finally gained access to Yarl’s Wood after being refused for over a year . She stated that:

These women were clearly desperate. Indefinite detention, with no release date, is just wrong.

These women exist in a state of inertia. They are living a life in which they are unsure of what their sentence will be or when it will end. Detainees say the system leaves people “breaking down psychologically”.

Yet this is not a new issue. Yarl’s Wood is no stranger to controversy. Private sector company Serco took it over in 2007.  And in 2010, up to 70 women took a similar stand, denying themselves food in protest against “unfair and degrading treatment”.

In 2013, detainees also alleged that Serco staff were engaging in inappropriate sexual contact with women in the centre. They claimed staff gave women the impression that help with their cases could be exchanged for sexual contact. It was also alleged that guards entered inmates’ rooms in the middle of the night. While Serco denied that there is a culture of sexual exploitation within Yarl’s Wood, six detainees had made formal claims of sexual assault against guards between 2013-2015.

In 2014, the Home Office awarded Serco a new eight year contract worth £70m to continue managing Yarl’s Wood.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Part of a bigger problem

The UK is the only country in the EU to detain asylum seekers indefinitely. There are currently nine active immigration removal centres, many run by private firms including G4S and Serco. In 2017, the Home Office published figures showing there were 2,994 people being held in these institutions at the end of June that year.

The Home Office agrees that victims of torture in particular should not be detained indefinitely. But it redefined the term in 2016 to refer only to torture carried out by state agents, so survivors of rape and gender-based violence are often still detained.

Furthermore, on 22 February, the former immigration minister Brandon Lewis appeared on BBC Question Time. In response to questioning by the journalist Ash Sarkar, Lewis stated that:

detention centres are for people who are being removed from the country or are going back to their own country who are in the country illegally. Asylum seekers go through a different process.

But a 2017 report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that, in a six month period, 67% of female detainees at Yarl’s Wood were released back into the community. This suggests immigration removal centres play a part in the UK’s asylum process.


This government’s outsourcing of key public services to private companies has been disastrous. Be it the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) paying out millions for contractors and consultants while being accused of human rights violations, the collapse of Carillion or the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, the common theme is that the most vulnerable bear the biggest cost.

These women are now starving themselves just for some clarity over their future. This could only happen in a broken system.

Get Involved!

Support Women for Refugee Women.

Support Refugee Action.

Featured image via socialistalternative/Flickr

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed