On Friday 19 March, most of the women who have been refusing food, suspended their hunger strike in order to avoid permanent damage to their health. Women have vowed to resume the strike if the authorities don’t investigate their complaints about indefinite detention, appalling conditions and arbitrary removals – see women’s statement. A legal challenge had to be mounted by Leigh Day solicitors to force the Yarl’s Wood authorities to carry out “medical risk assessments to ascertain the specific risk of refeeding syndrome and follow Dept. of Health Guidelines on refeeding.” Medical Justice is pursuing this. No appropriate food has been provided and, last night, two women were sick.
Victory – hunger striker released!
Ms V, a single mother of eight children from St Lucia was released on bail after seven months in detention. She had been kidnapped by a drugs gang, suffered rape and other torture, and in fear of her life was forced to carry drugs to the UK. Whilst in detention, she sent the following statement to the Mothers’ Campaign of the All African Women’s Group:
|“I won my Appeal hearing after a long battle – the court believed that I would be in danger if I was sent back. But the Home Office appealed against the judgment. I have been kept in detention which is like a prison. I’m suffering from being kept apart from my kids and the government doesn’t care.
“Mothers must be reunited with our kids. A mother’s love is special. It affects our children deeply in all sorts of ways when we are not there. All these years I’ve spent sick with worry since I was forced to leave. Every day that goes by is hard when you’re not seeing your kids. My first born has turned 18 and I wasn’t with him, and my last baby doesn’t even know me. She is six years old now and I haven’t seen her for almost that long — she was a tiny thing when I fled. She knows she’s got a mummy but doesn’t know it’s me – we will have to get to know each other all over again.
“When then they write to you about what they are suffering it breaks you up. I got a letter from my daughter saying how my uncle, who is looking after them, abuses, beats and kicks them for any little thing. That’s too painful to bear. And one of my daughters ran away a couple of times. She sends me letters and writes me poems and tells me she is going to kill herself if she can’t get to see me. I’m scared that she will do it and I’m not there to help her which hurts so bad it breaks my heart. The kids are my life and they are growing up without me, all eight of them. I’ve never even heard my little’s ones voice. I don’t have the guts to speak to her now, I just look at their pictures and weep.”
“Lots of mothers in Yarl’s Wood are like me. The Mothers’ Campaign petition is very good. It shows to everybody what we go through. People need to hear us moms and help get us out – justice needs to be done.”
Women attempt suicide
Two hunger strikers have attempted suicide by drinking bleach and other toxic substances, hanging themselves or by slitting their wrists. On Wednesday, when Women Against Rape called in response to an emergency report that there had been another suicide attempt, SERCO, the private company which runs Yarl’s Wood, said “we have no concerns”. Ms O who tried to self-harm three times this week, was taken to hospital and each time was returned to detention. Lawyers have gone to the High Court to try and get her released into appropriate medical care but their applications have been refused.
BWRAP spent hours on the phone with a number of women who are increasingly desperate, describe feeling under constant threat by guards and are self-harming. One woman witnessed the suicide attempt by her friend and was herself traumatized by it. We gave them news of women who have been released, made progress in their cases, conveyed the tremendous public support as well as our determination to work with them to win their release.
Hunger striker abused and denied healthcare
Ms Z called a night nurse because she had severe pain around her kidney. No one came. During the next day she tried to get health care and was refused. During the next night, her room mate was so concerned she pressed the panic button and a guard came in. He got so close to Ms Z’s face she could feel his spit, called her a “f**king dog” and said she had “brought this on herself”. She was so terrified she ran and locked herself into the toilet. He came back with other guards who kicked the door down and told her to come out. Despite having no confidence in the complaints procedure, Ms Z has made a complaint to UKBA.
Police interrogate women in prison
Two former hunger strikers, who were falsely targeted as “ringleaders” and transferred to HMP Bronzefield, were visited last week by two plain clothes police officers. They were interrogated about events on 8 February and one woman was bullied into accepting a caution for damage to a window. The other woman was told she could be charged at a later date. Lawyers are challenging the caution because she was offered no legal representation and is clearly vulnerable.
Specialist rape groups banned from legal visits
Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape have been accompanying lawyers on visits to rape survivors in Yarl’s Wood. Visits for 14 & 15 March were cancelled when the authorities banned both groups from coming in on legal visits. Lawyers wrote that our presence ensured “the effective taking of instructions” because we have “extensive experience of dealing with victims of rape, domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women.”
Countering more government lies
Black Women’s Rape Action Project’s replied to David Wood, UK Border Agency’s Strategic Director who accused us of relying on “sensationalist statements which were either exaggerated, or in many cases totally fabricated”. (Correspondence attached).
Frances Laing, a journalist who blogs regularly on the hunger strike, has complained to the Parliamentary Commission for Standards about minister Meg Hillier MP misleading Parliament by claiming that detention is only used for those: “whose application to stay have been fully considered by the UK borders agency and the independent courts, but have failed. Ms Laing cites Ms V who won her case in January and was kept in detention because the Home Office appealed that decision. (See above)
Representatives from the All African Women’s Group and BWRAP were invited to speak at a fringe meeting at the Women’s Conference of the Trade Union Congress. As a result a motion was passed in support of the hunger strike (attached).
Mothers’ March, 13 March 2010
Hunger strikers statements to the very successful Mothers’ March (attached).
2. BWRAP and Women Against Rape interviewed on the recent charter flight to Nigeria and the hunger strike
The information in this update comes from daily, often hourly contact with women in Yarl’s Wood by members of All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape, with Legal Action for Women being available, round the clock, for direction on legal issues.