Update: More than 40 women in Yarl's Wood continue their hunger strike for the 5th day [more].
A mass hunger strike by families detained at Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire has been met with violent assaults on men, women and children by Serco security guards who mange the prison on behalf on the UK Border Agency. The detainees started the hunger strike on Monday and staged a sit-in in the corridor over their inhumane conditions.
Meanwhile in Brook House, the newly opened detention centre at Gatwick airport, a 'disturbance' broke out on 12th June and a fire was set by rioting detainees in the exercise area causing some damage.
A solidarity protest outside Serco's offices in London (22 Hand Court, Holborn, WC1V 6JF) has been called by No Borders London in support of the Yarl's Wood hunger strikers on Friday, 19th June, from 12noon. Activists from the Tyneside Community Action for Refugees (TCAR) gathered outside government offices in Newcastle on Wednesday to protest against racism and all immigration prisons.
Yarl's Wood immigration prison
On Monday, 15th June, Yarl's Wood detainees decided unanimously to start a hunger strike over their inhumane conditions and refused to go to dinner. As the hunger strike continued on Tuesday, the managers of the prison met up to "see what to do," preventing detainees from speaking to visitors and reporters. Later on, detainees were denied access to the Internet in the library.
On Wednesday, 17th June, all the detained families left their rooms and staged a sit-in in the corridors. They had collectively prevented the deportation of a family the day before and were determined to continue to prevent any other attempts to deport any other families. The parents were all refusing food and children were being fed with purchases from the shop.
At about 4pm, between 30 and 40 Serco guards came in and started to remove all men involved in the protest and separate them from the women and children. Detainees reported that excessive force was used to do this. Two women, who had their cloths ripped off, were also violently removed. A guard was reportedly seen filming one of the semi-naked women. The husband of one of the women was injured and bleeding. In the struggle, her child, aged 19 months, fell from her back and was stepped on by one of the guards. Another detainee, who had spoken to the press and put out a statement calling for support for the hunger strike, was also violently assaulted by the guards. A migrant support worker was on the phone to the wife of Solomon Ojehonmon when he and other men were being attacked.
One of the women detainees, who had been snatched from Newcastle on Friday, told a supporter from TCAR: "I have never ever seen such violence. They were beating the men like they were animals. They say if we dare to go back into the corridor they will spray us all over [with pepper spray]. We need your help from outside. We don't have any rights in here. We need your support from outside."
By the end of Wednesday, at least two men, two women and two children had been removed from the wing. Their whereabouts are still unknown. All women were still on hunger strike. Doctors have not been allowed access to examine the injuries, some of which are reportedly severe.
Shamelessly, a UK Border Agency spokesperson said in a press release: "Officers have separated a small number of detainees from the general population at Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre. This was conducted by staff trained in conflict resolution... This separation was conducted with the utmost sensitivity and there have been no injuries to detainees." The lies, of course, were echoed by mainstream media reports, such as those by the BBC, without any scrutiny.
Many of those detained at Yarl's Wood have been there for months. Children, women and men are traumatised and humiliated on a daily basis. Many of them, including pregnant women, have medical conditions but are not receiving proper medical attention. For instance, a woman suffering from haemorrhaging (constant bleeding) was taken into hospital, only to be brought back into detention. Another woman detainee suffers from epilepsy but is not receiving proper medical care. She is often found on the floor after her child is taken to eat. Many of the children at Yarl's Wood suffer from restlessness and disease, crying and screaming all night.
In statement circulated by campaigners, the detainees summarised their 'points of protest' as follows:
1. Children, some as young as five months old, in this detention are sick. Most were struck down with virus, they are not eating properly since they are not used to the food here, not sleeping properly, restless and suffer other psychological manifestations including nightmares, bedwetting, screaming at night, violent behaviours and other emotional outbursts like crying etc.
2. A recently bereaved family of three, who lost their twins and buried [them] just about a month ago, [are] being detained and [have been] given removal directions without even a chance to say farewell to the grave at Everton cemetery, where three of their children are buried.
3. Pregnant women, some with complications, are detained with total disregard of their well-being, including a pregnant lady, who is also suffering from depression and anxiety.
4. A lady recently went through a major life-threatening operation for ectopic pregnancy a couple of months ago, and now detained without even sufficient time to recover.
5. An epileptic lady who suffers multiple seizures, up to six times in a twenty-four hour period, with only a 14-year-old son to look after her. The occupants tried to assist in such distressing times.
6. Families in considerable distress [are] being plucked out of their beds early in the morning and transported in mobile prisons for long hours to the airport.
7. The continuing detention has placed considerable stress on families and, as such, we have decided to rise with a single voice and say no to detention of innocent people.
8. Hence, this is the second day of a continuing hunger-strike. Also tonight [Tuesday, 16th June], all occupants here, with the children, have decided to spend the night protesting outside [in the court yard].
9. We will appreciate any help and advice we can get from you.
Brook HouseLate in the evening of Friday, 12th June, a group of detainees locked in Brook House, the new detention centre at Gatwick airport, refused to be locked in and started rioting. The reason is unknown but has possibly to do with some Iraqi nationals being given removal directions (deportation orders) for the next mass deportation flight to Iraqi Kurdistan.
According to reports from detainees, there were apparently very few Duty Custody Officers (or G4S security guards) on duty at the time, so they quickly removed themselves from the wing as soon as the 'trouble' started. Some detainees, however, were locked in their cells, whilst others were able to move freely around the wing. Guards did not regain control until around 6am the following morning, when police in riot gear (Tornado teams) were drafted in to take back the occupied areas.
During the night, many of the cells were reportedly damaged, as well as the wing's administration office. Mattresses and bedding were burnt and a quite large fire was set in the yard outside. There were apparently no serious injuries but there was a significant amount of damage done to the A Wing, which is now closed.
Many of the detainees were locked in their cells for more than 24 hours during the disturbance. They reportedly received only an apple and a Kitkat all day, before they were moved onto other wings on Sunday evening.
It took a fax to immigration at Colnbrook to get Steve to the phone!
When Steve picked up the phone in Colnbrook, he said hello and them immediately broke down into uncontrollable sobbing, I have never heard anyone so distressed in all my life. It took 3/4 minutes of my talking him down to where he could get a sentence together and for the whole of the phone call he was constantly breaking down.
He said, yesterday about 10 guards had grabbed him and began to lay into him with punches and kicks, they wrestled him to the ground and then sat on him, cutting off his breath it was at this point Steve said, "I thought I was going to die, I really did". They then brought him to Colnbrook. He is complaining of pain all over his body, in particular his head, neck and chest.
Many people tried to phone him earlier today but were told they could not speak to him. Both Nicki from FRFI and myself faxed immigration at Colnbrook to complain and the response was instant, Nicki got a message saying it should never of happened, I got a phone call from immigration saying that Steve was being brought immediately to the phone, which he was.
For Steve the most unbearable thing of the last 24 hours had not been the severe beating he got; but the separation from his children and his partner, this is destroying him.
Steve and his family still do not have a support group to help them set up and an Anti-Deportation Campaign.
Background: Asylum man in rooftop stand off
A Nigerian asylum seeker staged an eight-hour rooftop protest after immigration officers turned up at his family home early yesterday. Steve Umoru, 43, clambered through a skylight window and then scrambled along the roofs on Dodworth Road.
Full article: Adam Civico and Kate Pickles, The Barnsley Chronicle, Friday 06/03/09
* Picket SERCO today - Fri 19 June - 12pm-1pm - at their head office, Hand Court, Holborn
* Contact SERCO (who run Yarl’s Wood) and demand that the strikers’ demands are met - (0)1344 386300 - firstname.lastname@example.org
* Contact Yarl’s Wood and demand that the strikers demands are met - 01234 821000
* Contact Alaister Burt MP for Yarls Wood - email@example.com
* Forward this news to any email lists you are on or press contacts you have
* If you can donate towards credit for detainees’ mobiles or travel costs for solidarity visits, email firstname.lastname@example.org and a few of us will bring it up when we visit on Sunday
Mass hunger strike continues at Yarl’s Wood
19 JUNE 2009. - After being unable to speak to an Immigration Officer, Juliette Umoru, Lorraine and more than 40 women detained in the Families Section in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre have decided to maintain the hunger strike until their demands are met.
Today is the 5th day of the hunger strike but the prisoners have not heard any news from the Immigration Officers.
According to Juliette Umoru and Lorraine they only want to sort out their demands. The prisoners urge:
1) Relocate a 30 year old woman with epilepsy. She is not receiving medical attention and suffers from convulsions constantly. She is lying on the floor most of the time. The other inmates don’t help her as they do not want to make a fatal mistake.
2) Resolve the situation of a 5 months pregnant woman, who was arrested two months ago and who is extremely sick. She stays in bed all day and does not receive medical attention.
3) Resolve the situation of almost 20 children (between 5 months and 2 years old). They are with their mothers and able to play with other kids, but they are showing clear signs of tension, pressure, distress and anxiety. Some women have been detained for more than two months and the children can’t understand the situation.
4) Talk to the Immigration Officer, Sarah (no surname supplied), who must listen these requests. (Sarah’s name was suggested by the Serco’s manager).
5) Adequate access to health care, quality food and real privacy.
6) Restore the communications between Juliette Umoru and her husband Steve, who is not allowed to talk to her. Mr Umoru took part in the demonstration last Wednesday in Yarls Wood. Guards took away all the protesters and pulled the men away from the women. Juliette’s husband Steve was injured and bleeding.
According to Juliette and Lorraine during the protests about 40 guards confronted the men involved. One of them was Juliette’s husband, who was injured in the struggle. Also, Juliette’s child fell from her back and an officer stepped on the child. “I was screaming and ask him to see what he was doing, but he did not listened and looked the other way."
Although the hunger strike now reaches five days, the staff of Yarls Wood and the Home Office have shown total indifference to the demands. "They do not care at all what happen to us. It doesn't bother them if our children are suffering or having problems, they don’t mind if a women are sick and convulsing," says Lorraine.
There are between 20 and 40 women waiting in this section (Families Section); every day some of them are deported usually without even knowing the Home Office answer to their appeals.
Fast-track asylum decisions are against their rights. “The Home Office – they say – has the last word and doesn’t respect the law or basic procedures”.
The Dove Section
Something similar is happening at Dove Section in Yarls Wood. For two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 100 women detained staged a hunger strike to protest the way they are being deported to their countries of residence. Some of them are deported the day following their arrest, without even being allowed to get a lawyer, inform their family and friends of their status or even just keep their belongings.
Women arrested are from China, Pakistan, India, Latin America, India, China and other countries. Every day a minimum of six women are deported, wearing the same clothes they arrived in because they were not allowed to get their own clothes. In addition, many of them did not have time to hear the answer to their appeal. Many of them don’t speak English and are unable to implement their rights.
It is reported that a woman tried to commit suicide. She cut her veins of both hands but a guard stopped her and took her to the hospital. This is something that is happening on a daily basis. Depression, anxiety, fear, anxiety, uncertainty ... “It is a psychological torture. We are conscious we have nothing to lose. They bring the TV to show all the comforts we have, but they do not mind that we have no rights, even to know how our cases are developing."
According to them, their appeals are not being studied in a reasonable length of time and many are deported without having a response from the Home Office. Inmates also complain that the food they receive is inadequate.
Obviously Home Office and Yarl’s Wood are violating the basic rights of the prisoners.
e-mail: caic at lists.riseup.net
All we asked was to see someone who was in the position to listen to us, to hear us out.
On tuesday we were called that someone from the immigration want to speak with us because the officers overeheard that if nobody come, we are going to take our matresses outside and stay there until someone comes. Around 5.30PM the door that leads outside was close. We then went upstairs in the room, instead of an immigration officer we met the cerco's (SERCO's) manager we told her why we were not happy but she said it was not in her power. We told her that there are some points we are not happy with such as expiry (out of date) meat ... but that staff are nice and we are getting on with them very well, we have no problem ith 'cerco' she promised Sarah will come and speak to us but individually. We waited until 8 pm nobody turned up we put our matrsses on the corridor they came to take somebody to the ariport to deport we said no: you did not fulfill your promise to bring Sarah to us therefore you are not taking anyone out. Give us someone who can listen to us and we will be okay we promised we won't be violent or damage anything all we want is someone who has that power to solve our problem. We slept in a corridor on Tuesday night with the promise that Sarah was coming on Wednsesday morning. But instead of that they came to take someone else to the airport , but we said no, we told you yesterday and we are telling you now that nobody is not going anywhere until we see Sarah. They went back and the next hours aroung 2 pm around 40 men came and grabbed and beat men. One of the men fell down and was dragged on the floor, they were videoing the whole scene even the naked women. Some in the process were stepping on our children.
I have seen women and men lose their digity before their children, husband and wife. I could not believe animals could be treated that way not to talk about human beings. I woke up this morning crying and shaking only at the thought of what happened evern a criminal who has been cought on acr express himself in front of a judge before his sentence.
Where is our crime?
Where is the crime of our children?
Hello companeros these are our demands in full:
1 - that they attend our requests and comply with the same laws they impose
2- that they return the money they have taken off us, and allow us access to bank accounts when deported.
3- Medical attention and psychogical treatment, because the majority are in a very bad state and almost every day there are women losing their minds and trying to committ suicide.
4- Improved food
5-No more psychological torture which we suffer every day from Home Office and Immigration (not from the staff here).
6- No to the constant surveillance they have us under because they are trying to avoid more (hunger) strikes.
7 Stop bringing the media here just for them to report that what is happening here is not for real. The TV were here.
8- Stop the deportations
Protest in support of these demands, the hunger strikers and the SOAS 9:
Picket the Home Office's Communications
House 210 Old Street, London, EC1V 9BR (1 minute from
Old Street tube, 205 bus goes straight from Whitechapel)
Speak out and rally including speakers from migrant
workers struggles and Yarl’s Wood.
The building looks anonymous but immigration reporting
centres are places of fear for asylum seekers, who have to report to them
monthly, weekly or even several times a week. They are places of
detention and several SOAS Cleaners were held here on the day they were
Lobby the Home Office in support of the SOAS 9
Tuesday 30th June, 5.30-6.30pm
2 Marsham St, Millbank, London SW1
A detainee's story: http://londonmigrantworkers.wordpress.com/