immigration control, oppression, conflict, war and human rights issues
Action Alert : Ugandan women hunger strikers face harassment from
Authorities in Yarl's Wood
For more information contact: Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women's Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 minicom/voice Fax: 020 7209 4761; 07958 152 171;
Women inside Yarl's Wood are available for interview
A number of Ugandan women, including mothers being held with their young children, are on hunger strike in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire. Other Ugandan women and men are refusing food in Dover, Doncaster and Oakington. Like the Zimbabwean hunger strikers, they are protesting against being removed and demanding that their asylum claims are reconsidered in light of the conditions in Uganda. Ms N has now been on hunger strike for 10 days; eight women joined her five days ago and numbers are growing. Ms N is now very weak and tried to commit suicide two days ago after a male guard entered her room when she was dressed only in her underwear. Ms N fled Uganda after suffering rape and was terrified that she was about to be raped again.
Yarl's Wood authorities have publicly denied that the women are on
hunger strike but yesterday the women met with officers from the
immigration services and Yarl's Wood's residents' manager to
discuss their actions and demands.
The hunger strikers are asking for urgent messages of support, insisting that removals to Uganda be stopped immediately and an end to harassment in Yarl's Wood (see details of who to write to below)
The women say:
"Despite Uganda being cited as one of the safer and more stable African countries, we were raped, beaten, imprisoned and then forced to flee for our lives. If we are returned, our lives will be in great danger;
The civil war continues with many deaths. The peace process aimed at
ending the eighteen-year conflict in Northern Uganda is at a standstill because neither the Ugandan government nor the insurgent Lords Resistance Army (LRA) are committed to finding a negotiated solution;
The Ugandan authorities hold "suspects" incommunicado in unrecognised
detention centres, commonly referred to as "safe houses", where security agencies use torture to extract information from their victims;
Many people are being killed by the government secretly and there is no investigation into these deaths. One example is that nothing was done after mass graves were discovered in the suburbs of Kampala in 2002;
LRA atrocities against civilians predominantly in the North continue to rise in number and viciousness, including kidnapping of children on a nightly basis. Many children are forced into the LRA army and girls as young as six are raped;
Although opposition political parties have been started and their
presence has been used as proof that Uganda is democratic and safe,
severe restrictions have been imposed on their activities. There is no freedom of assembly or freedom of speech. Many journalists are being detained and newspapers being closed down. Peaceful rallies have been disrupted by the police using tear gas and rubber bullets;
Despite these government abuses, the current President Museveni, is
trying to amend the constitution to allow him a third term in office;
A number of us are HIV positive and are due to be deported shortly.
Home Office assurances that medical treatment is available to people
with AIDS who are deported, are not true.
Channel Four recently interviewed a doctor from the hospital often cited by officials and adjudicators as providing this medical care. She confirmed that they did not have medication to give to patients for free and that the aid given does not reach victims. Just the tests alone cost the average monthly wage of a civil servant and we don't even have jobs or housing to return to;
The government claims that treatment for HIV positive people has
resulted in a decrease in the numbers of people with AIDS. But the truth behind those figures is that a combination of poor nutrition, lack of sanitation and clean water, means that within four years of an HIV diagnosis many people are dead. It's people dying not any treatment provided that is the cause of the drop in numbers.
People who have been deported to Uganda have been taken into detention
After publicity highlighting conditions in Yarl's Wood, the authorities also tried to claim that they provide a caring environment - but women have shocking evidence that this is not the case:
When any of us go to the doctor or nurse we get sent away with pain
killers no matter what we complain of. Blood tests and other vital
information about our illnesses forwarded by NHS facilities go missing, and there is no urgency about making sure we are getting the help we need. For example, one of us is suspected of suffering from TB but no progress has been made in her diagnosis or treatment. Even when someone tries to commit suicide, they get no psychiatric assessment.
Racist abuse from staff is a daily occurrence. We are called "black
monkeys" who "don't deserve to be here" and "don't belong here". Staff punish anyone they take a dislike to for no reason, for example
withholding personal belongings of one woman who told the officer he
was racist. When women try to complain, the officers refuse to allow
them to speak to senior managers or if they do get the chance to make
an official complaint, they always find in the officers' favour and
then we get labelled a liar on our record.
Most of us are constantly having to change lawyers to try and find
someone who will genuinely help us. Many lawyers demand money -
up to £1000 even to look at our case. Lawyers lie to us about
when they are coming to visit and then don't show up, or say they're
going to do something and don't. A lot of women get deported because
their lawyer did nothing. Nothing happens to those lawyers,
they just move on to the next woman.
We don't get enough food and what we get is tasteless, often burnt,
undercooked or a day old. It gives us stomach ache but when you
complain you get targetted. The last meal is at 5.30pm and then
we get nothing until 8am the following morning.
Even when our removal is cancelled we are still sometimes taken to the
airport. One of us had to physically resist because the guards wouldn't believe her. The next time she was taken in handcuffs. Other women have been attacked or humiliated by guards pulling them along the ground so that their clothes are ripped off. One semi-naked woman was sat on by male guards and badly hurt as a result but when her lawyer tried to pursue what happened the CCTV footage of this
deportation had mysteriously disappeared!
Another woman was deeply traumatised when she saw officers apparently
strangling a young man they had already stripped naked as they dragged
him away. She was terrified he had been killed and said it was that
kind of violence she had fled in Uganda.
A month ago, Legal Action for Women launched "For Asylum Seekers and
their Supporters - A Self-help Guide Against Detention and Deportation".
Since then over 30 women have contacted us from Yarl's Wood Removal
Centre, and we are starting to get requests for help from Oakington
Accommodation Centre. A number of women had or have imminent removal dates. Some are among the hunger strikers.
Black Women's Rape Action Project says:
"Some women haven't been able to speak about the rape they suffered,
including the most horrendous accounts of gang rape and prolonged
periods of rape in detention, until they contact us. UNHCR and
Home Office's guidelines specify that vulnerable people shouldn't
be detained but don't mention rape. Survivors face an uphill battle
to be recognised as torture victims and are systematically
disbelieved, abused and treated with hostility by the Home Office
and the courts."
Write to: Immigration Minister Tony McNulty, Fax: 020-7219 2417; Telephone: 020-7219 4108
The Women and Equality Unit, 1 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0ET,
Telephone: 0207 215 5000;
Yarls Wood Centre Manager, Ray Reveley, Telephone: 01234 821000;
Fax: 01234 217438
Send us a copy of your letters, and to Harriet Harman (Solicitor
Email: email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org;
Fax 0207 271 2430 or Tel: 0207-219 2057.
Many women are keen to be interviewed. Please call on 020 7482 2496 to make an arrangement.
Appendix to Action Alert:
a) A Self-Help Guide for Asylum Seekers facing Detention and Removal
Asylum seekers facing detention & deportation: A self help guide
b) Yarl's Wood women 'hunger strike'
More than 30 female detainees at the UK's largest immigration removal
centre are on hunger strike, supporters say.
27 July 2005
c) Hunger strikers are not properly monitored at detention centre,
d) Asylum Seekers Who Have Been Raped Have Been Tortured.
e) Black Women's Rape Action Project
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