The Home Office response to the women on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre has been vile. First, it threatened the women with ‘accelerated deportation’ if they continued with their protest. And then, immigration minister Caroline Nokes tried to defend the decision by saying the department had consulted a charity – one which doesn’t, in fact, support the Home Office stance.
The hunger strike
Over 100 detainees are on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood. They have a list of 15 demands they are asking the government to meet. But it is their stories which really illustrate why these demands are so important. One hunger striker wrote:
This whole thing started out of desperation and frustration and a deep sense of injustice felt by myself and others. We needed a voice and more importantly we needed someone to listen.
We are on a hunger strike because we are suffering unfair imprisonment and racist abuse in this archaic institution in Britain.
And another woman set out the reasons why she is taking part in the hunger strike:
I am involved in the hunger strike because I think we face very unfair conditions in that we are detained for an indefinite amount time. The uncertainty that we face everyday is unbearable which leads us to have stress, panic, and in turn a lot of health complication.
But instead of listening to these women, the Home Office decided to threaten them. A letter from an immigration enforcement manager stated that taking part in the hunger strike:
may, in fact, lead to your case being accelerated and your removal from the UK taking place sooner.
The full text of the letter is here:
'The fact that you are currently refusing food and/or fluid: may, in fact, lead to your case being accelerated and your removal from the UK taking place sooner.' pic.twitter.com/a9ZXFmC20E
— Detained Voices (@detainedvoices) March 3, 2018
Just following orders
When questioned about the letter, Nokes confirmed that it was government policy. She stated:
[It] was agreed after consultation with NHS England, Medical Justice, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association and other NGOs.
However, Medical Justice told The Guardian that, although it was consulted, it did not approve of the policy. During the consultation, it wrote:
For detention to be legal, the Home Office should only exercise the power of detention for the minimum possible time in every case. [The policy] appears to suggest that this is in fact not the case and also implies that removal can be expedited as a punitive measure. That approach is wholly inappropriate and contrary to clinical best practice.
But there is widespread support for the detainees. Labour MP Lucy Powell told The Independent:
The Home Office’s draconian tactics are just completely wrong. They would be better off focusing their energies on the many criminals that fall through the net rather than woman who have lived in this country for years who are just trying to live a good life. This is a shocking, inhumane abuse of process.
And shadow home secretary Diane Abbott recorded a video in support of the women:
Yesterday, Diane Abbott recorded a message of solidarity for the #hungerforfreedom protestors at Yarl’s Wood. Share it widely, so the detainees know just how much support they have on the outside ✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾 @detainedvoices pic.twitter.com/EbzWasMTqQ
— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) March 6, 2018
There are also calls for a 24-hour fast to support the women on 8 March, International Women’s Day:
This mass #hungerforfreedom support action seeks to amplify the demands of people at Yarl’s Wood. We encourage you to share publicly that you are joining the mass action and spread the word. Invite your friends and also e-mail your MP. We want the Home Office to know that immigration detention is gender and institutional violence, and we will bring it to an end.
At the time of writing, over 250 people have pledged to take part in the action.
The immigration detention system in the UK needs to end. Now. These women feel like they have no choice other than going on hunger strike to get their voices heard. We must listen and we must do everything we can to help them.
– Support the Freedom Fast.
– Follow Detained Voices on Twitter.
– Support the campaign to shut Yarl’s Wood and join the protests.
Featured image via Oliver White