As coronavirus infects women in Yarl’s Wood, detainees make urgent demands

via Emily Apple
Eliza Egret

As coronavirus (Covid-19) begins to infect detainees, women trapped in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre are demanding their immediate release. Many of these women have already fled from dangerous situations, and include people with pre-existing health conditions and mothers separated from their children.

People imprisoned in the UK’s overcrowded detention centres are especially vulnerable to the virus. They are denied healthcare, and those with pre-existing health conditions are not being protected. Many people are showering and eating together and are forced to share rooms, so self-isolation is pretty much impossible.

Unsurprisingly, there are also reports that the detention centre detainees’ mental health is getting worse. Many live in constant fear of being infected.

High risk of the disease spreading

Campaigners assert that places like Yarl’s Wood are especially at risk. They say that diseases like coronavirus could spread quicker in prisons. On top of this, a number of detainees will have recently travelled from countries like Italy, where the incidences of coronavirus are much greater.

“Free us all now!”

The Yarl’s Wood women argue that they should be released because:

  1. Covid-19 is in Yarl’s Wood, our visits have been cancelled, we are isolated and our mental health is suffering.
  2.  Some of us have asthma, high blood pressure & other conditions that make us more vulnerable to Covid-19, as well as being scared for our own health, we are scared for our families on the outside & want[ed] to be with them.
  3. We cannot get the healthcare we need in detention, they just give us paracetamol. Serco cannot keep us safe. People will die.
  4. It is impossible to do social distancing on our wings, we have not had any training on how to use the mask and gloves they gave us.
  5. Our solicitors cannot visit us and our bail hearings are being cancelled and moved to paper decisions. We are denied justice.
  6. We can not be put on any flights any time soon because of travel restrictions.
  7. It is inhuman & unjust that we are held in detention during this public health crisis. Some of us have committed no crimes, all of us with convictions have served our time & even longer cause of detention.

It concludes:

Hundred[s] have been released in the past few weeks but it is taking too long. FREE US ALL NOW!!! SHUT DOWN THE DETENTION CENTRES!

Grant everyone Status Now

As the Yarl’s Wood women make their demands, migrants’ rights organisations have signed an open letter to Boris Johnson, demanding that everyone should be granted status to remain immediately.

Organisations and activists including Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, the All African Women’s Group, and Docs NotCops, have all called upon the British and Irish states to:

act immediately so that all undocumented, destitute and migrant people in the legal process in both the UK and Ireland are granted Status Now, as in Leave to Remain.

The organisations argue that everyone’s basic needs should be met. All people should have access to healthcare, food and state income, in order to take care of themselves as much as possible during the coronavirus crisis.

It also emphasises that people within the immigration legal system:

[do not have] enough money to eat healthily, or buy and apply appropriate cleaning materials, and many are living in accommodation where they cannot socially isolate as they may want and need to.

Those who are undocumented live in fear of what would happen if they identify themselves. These people:

cannot access healthcare, emergency shelter and food, nor report or seek protection from domestic violence, rape, exploitation and other abuses – levels of which are already rising.

#NooneLeftBehind

Meanwhile, activists across Europe are also demanding that governments protect refugees and those people stuck in the detention system.

On 29 March, people waved banners from their homes, demanding that states evacuate all detention centres and refugee camps:

Keep the pressure on the government

It’s clear that all of us need to keep putting on pressure to force the government to grant equal status for everyone. Now, more than ever, we need to make our voices heard. The real test of a society is how we treat people who are the most vulnerable.

Featured image via Emily Apple

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