Earlier this year more than 100 women detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre went on hunger strike for several weeks. Some of the group are survivors of torture (though the Home Office denies this) and other forms of sexual or gender-based violence including rape. They are protesting against the use of indefinite detention, the detainment of survivors of torture, and the detainment of people who entered the UK as children. Earlier attempts to raise the issues have been ignored leading them to adopt this drastic action.
The hunger strikers have a clear and achievable set of demands. Their plight is summed up simply by one of the women, from Zimbabwe:
“We are not criminals, and yet we are held indefinitely in an institution that is, for all intent, a prison.”
The United Kingdom is the only European country with no time limit on detention. Detainees have no idea when they will leave. This can have a terrible impact on mental health.
Many organisations and politicians from across party lines are calling for the law and current practices to be changed, especially for an end to indefinite detention. They include Amnesty International, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders, a cross-party parliamentary inquiry, and the Government’s own reviewer, Stephen Shaw.