Dear friends,

Women have now been on hunger strike for three weeks in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre and continue to need your support. We enclose an update below. Please take action:

1. Ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion 919 “Hunger Strike at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre” (see below). You might want to send them the update so they are armed against Home Office propaganda.

2. Write to ministers demanding: that mothers, victims of rape and other torture and all vulnerable women be immediately released; an independent investigation into the treatment of hunger strikers; a moratorium on all removals and deportations.

· Phil Woolas MP, the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration or

· Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP, Home Secretary or

· Meg Hillier MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Home Office or

UPDATE: 34 women still on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood 26 Feb 2010

Parliamentary Early Day Motion 919 lodged on 23 February by John McDonnell MP and endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn and 10 other MPs has led to a government attempt to smear the hunger strikers and their supporters.

The EDM requests that:

HM Inspector of Prisons urgently carries out an independent investigation into reports of violence, mistreatment and racist abuse from guards, being kettled for over five hours in a hallway, denied access to toilets and water and locked out in the freezing cold, which women have made, and a moratorium on all removals and deportations of the women who took part in the hunger strike pending the results of that investigation”.

Meg Hillier, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, has written to every MP denying that women are still on hunger strike: “Whilst there are a small number of detainees refusing formal meals from the canteen, they are buying food from the centre’s shop and vending machines and having food delivered by visitors.”

34 women wrote denying these lies and pointing out that visitors are banned from bringing in food.

Other false claims in the government letter include:

1. “Women are only removed after their cases have been ‘fully considered.” Rape survivors and victims of other torture are still routinely assessed under the fast-track, where a case is settled in 10 days leaving no time to gather expert reports crucial to corroborating a claim of persecution. 99% of cases are refused. Listen to this week’s Woman’s Hour interview with Isata Denton Ceesay of All African Women’s Group, whose case was fast tracked, and Gauri van Gulik, Human Rights Watch on their report “Fast-Tracked Unfairness.”

Reliable legal representation is almost impossible to find. Appointments with lawyers at the Legal Services Commission clinic in Yarl’s Wood are at max 35 minutes long and often less. Many women come to AAWG & BWRAP with claims which have been refused without the evidence of rape, torture and persecution being considered. How much more is spent by the Home Office opposing asylum claims than is spent on legal aid by people trying to make a claim? Evidence of blatant hostility, racism and other discrimination by Home Office case workers is well documented.

2. “Detainees prolong their detention by appealing.” Women are increasingly denied the right to appeal in the UK or end up representing themselves leading to great injustice. Research has exposed Immigration Judges systematic hostility and discrimination (Misjudging Rape: Breaching Gender Guidelines & International Law in Asylum Appeals). In addition, when women win their claim, sometimes after years, the HOME OFFICE APPEALS! We are in touch with three women in Yarl’s Wood in this situation – one who has been in since June 2009 and won her case in October. She is in detention waiting for a hearing which is not till the end of March.

3. Yarl's Wood has free on-site primary healthcare provision and this reflects the level of care provided by NHS general practices.” Similar claims were made a few years back but a HM Inspector of Prisons report found: “weak clinical governance systems, inadequate staff training, insufficient mental health care . . . unresponsiveness of the IND to clinical concerns about an alleged history of torture or adverse medical consequences of continued detention.(1) Complaints of brutal, unresponsive health care continue to flood in including women recently released from detention who spoke in the House of Commons

4. Any claims that one detainee is on the verge of renal failure, or that others are suffering ill health as a result are false.” Please contact Dr Frank Arnold of Medical Justice for his statement confirming his examination of this woman and his findings.

5. . . . a detainee claims she should have her case looked at because she is not a criminal and has a little girl. In fact she was previously convicted of a serious criminal offence and is subject to legal restrictions by the courts for access to one of her children.” Singling out one mother to discredit the hunger strikers shows the level of desperation at the Home Office. Ms A, who this refers to, had only been in the UK for seven weeks and was destitute when she was convicted of child neglect after her son was injured by one of the people she was dependent on for housing. She was severely depressed at the time but unable to get her medication – all of which the judge took into account when sentencing her. She served her sentence and is therefore entitled to say. She is not a criminal, she’s a distraught mother, traumatised by knowing how her children are suffering without her. She is now in danger of being deported and permanently separated from her children.

Government and media hype about “dangerous foreign criminals” living in Britain has led to thousands of immigrant people, many of whom are convicted of minor offences of survival and poverty, being swept up in raids, detained and deported. Some hunger strikers were destitute when they were convicted of shoplifting or using fake documents to work, enrol in college, or open a bank account. Others were convicted of travelling on false documents when they came to the UK to escape persecution. Use of this offence to dismiss an asylum claim was condemned by Judge Sedley as a "serious invasion of judicial independence." (2) Even drug convictions are almost always because of severe poverty or coercion, where mothers, who are in fear of their own and their children’s lives, or don’t know where their next meal is coming from, have agreed to carry or sell small amounts of drugs. All are people of colour and easy targets for an institutionally racist police force and court system.

6. A denial of incidents of racial abuse and violence directed at detainees.” Complaints of racist abuse are in statements given to lawyers and are being pursued. There are too many and they are too consistent for there to be any serious doubt about their veracity. The report Outsourcing Abuse (3) documents almost 300 cases of alleged assault of detainees by immigration staff between 2004 and 2008. We look forward to the Independent Monitoring Board’s report and to Serco, the multi-national which runs Yarl’s Wood, responding to MPs request to providing unedited CCTV footage.

7. “The current misreporting, based on inaccurate and fabricated statements by those who campaign against our policy, is irresponsible as it causes unnecessary distress to the women at Yarl’s Wood.” We are in daily contact with hunger strikes and they have consistently pressed us to publicise their situation saying that media coverage is the best protection against retribution and further violence. Their hand written statements listing their complaints and demands were specifically done for the media. Some have expressed their fear of what would have happened if there had been no publicity.


We the undersigned have been on hunger strike since the 5/02/10 to date.. At no particular point in time have we gone to eat in the dining room, got food from the vending machines or at the shop. We would also like to point out that Yarl’s Wood has a no food, no drink policy, this has always been the case therefore saying that “visitors bring us food” is untrue.

Signed by 34 women.

[1] Inquiry into the quality of healthcare at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre 20 – 24 February 2006 by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

[2] “Asylum-seekers put at risk by law, warns top judge” Robert Verkaik, The Independent, 2 July 2008

[3] “Outsourcing Abuse” Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice & NCADC 14 July 2008