Three women share heartbreaking stories from the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre

Hands in handcuffs
Fréa Lockley

Three women from the notorious Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre have shared their heartbreaking stories.

#SetHerFree

From 7pm to 9pm on 30 January, Miriam, Agnes and Mary ‘took over’ EverydaySexism‘s Twitter page:

Mariam: “For what reason am I being locked up?”

As part of a minority Somali tribe, Mariam fled from “war and rape”. She hoped to find safety in the UK. And she thought she’d left her “problems” and “perpetrators” far behind.

Initially, she thought Yarl’s Wood was a “hostel for women”. But soon, the truth dawned, and she “realised after four days that I couldn’t leave the building”:

Mariam feels fortunate that she only had to spend two weeks in Yarl’s Wood. But she met many women detained for over a year. Now, she campaigns to show support and solidarity for all the women who’re still locked up:

Agnes: “I am an asylum seeker, I am a woman, I am a human being”

No matter where they come from, all the women in Yarl’s Wood fled from dangerous situations. As Agnes said, “I am a woman, I am a human being”:

Although Agnes arrived in the UK with a visa, she couldn’t renew it and spent eight years in the asylum system. Eventually, she was locked up in Yarl’s Wood:

The situation in the UK is appaling because there’s:

no time limit on immigration detention in the UK, so women can be locked up for weeks, months or even years. The UK is the only country in Europe with no time limit on detention. This is a human rights scandal.

Yarl’s Wood, Agnes said, “is a prison”:

But as Agnes explained, no one knows how long they’ll be there. There’s no time off for “good behaviour”, no parole, and “you just don’t know when you will get out”. Agnes has a clear message for home secretary Sajid Javid:

Going through the asylum system means people can’t work or study. This leaves too many people destitute:

Like Mariam, Agnes is also helping other women in similar situations. And her message to the UK government is powerful:

Mary: “Yarl’s Wood is a horrible place”

Mary (name changed for safety) is still detained. She was sold to human traffickers in the UK to pay off a family debt, and then forced into sex work:

Although Mary said “Yarl’s Wood is a horrible place”, her bigger fear is deportation back to China:

The Home Office has recently been accused of “failing vulnerable trafficked women by locking them up in Yarl’s Wood”.

“Everyone in detention is under threat”

Antonia Bright, a lead campaigner with the Movement for Justice, told The Canary that everyone at Yarl’s Wood also faces potential deportation:

Everyone in detention is under threat, though they may still be going through cases and working on applications. The risk of what will happen, or what each person stands to lose, is the critical reason why they are fighting to stay. 

According to the latest Home Office statistics, 2,545 people are currently held in detention centres. Up to 400 of these are women held at Yarl’s Wood, in conditions that Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has called “psychological torture”. Yet the Home Office is allegedly failing to act to protect survivors:

These women are not criminals. And their Twitter interventions give a vital insight into the horrible treatment they have suffered.

We must stand together and fight to end deportations, force change in the UK’s brutal asylum system, and give every woman who’s detained the love, support and solidarity they deserve.

Featured image via Max Pixel

Get involved

  • Show your solidarity for all the women locked up in Yarl’s Wood using the hashtag #SetHerFree.
  • Support Women for Refugee Women – they’ve created a letter template to write to your MP and build support.

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