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No bars today, mum & I made bail

Nellie de jongh | 08.08.2006 14:51 | Migration | Birmingham | London

A visit to Yarl's Wood - some families get free - one mother can take no more and sef-harms

Firstly I would like to give everyone the good news, baby Aliyah Benoni did make bail on Friday, It was a real honour to meet her for the first time last Thursday as I went down to visit for two days, Aliyah is a beautiful baby and mum was very pleased with the clothes from well wishers. I must have phoned at least 6 - 7 times to check if they were out of court, I finally got the news of their release in the evening. Thank you everybody for all your support it is really appreciated.

My visit to Yarl's Wood went well, accept that we could not see everyone as some of the detainees were released, some without bail, and we are assuming it is because of the outbreak of chickenpox.

The first thing I noticed when i got there was the double fence with razor wire at the top, the officers were extremely polite to a point where you begin to feel that its all a front, our pictures were taken and we were tagged (wrist band) we were asked to leave Aliyah's clothes and that they would be give to the detainee later, when I spoke to Mia, Aliyah's mother, she said she would not get them for two to three days. I went to ask the guards if it were at least possible for her to get some of the clothes immediate, as baby did not have much clothes, the officer agreed after I insisted.

Judging from what the detainees have told me, to get to the visit room, they had to come through 15 doors, some said 10, every door they go through has to be opened and looked again.

All the detainees (and visitors) adults and children are body searched before entering the visit room and body searched at the end, even if they go to the toilet during the visit they get searched again.

The body searches was the worst experience for me as a visitor, but what concerned me most was the body search of the women and children by male officers. I have since made several enquiries as I was trying to find out if such practice was acceptable. I spoke to a member of staff at Yarl's Wood, I asked what was the policy on body searches carried out on mothers and female children, her answer was " anyone one male or female can normally carry out the body search, unless the parent/s request female officers. I asked her how could a child possibly know to ask for a female officer, her answer to that was these children never leave their parent's sight.

I spoke to Felicity Collier, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) Standards & Ethics Board, Felicity told me that she and BASW are very concerned at this practice at Yarl's Wood" and urges that the practice should stop immediately". She believes some of these women and children may have experienced sexual abuse, and such searches could be experienced as another potential assault. (Statement from BASW at end of message).

The way I am feeling today is really difficult to explain, every day has been a challenge in its own way, some days I am on such a high and others it feels like I am not doing enough to try and help these parents and their children.

Today has been dreadful, all morning I have been trying to get in touch with Prisca Kifoula as she is due to be deported tomorrow. I just found out that she attempted to take her own life, by mixing soap powder and some medication.

The last person to see her this morning, said she was sitting on her bed reading her bible and asked him to come into her room, they had a discussion for awhile and then he left, he said he was shocked as she did not let on her intentions.

She told me last week that she would rather die than be deported back to Congo Brazzaville where her eldest daughter and first husband were killed. She said soldiers went round her village and killed every man and boy child as they said they would be future rebels, her daughter was mistaken for a boy and killed.

Nellie de jongh
079 1028 2047

Statement from BASW
The British Association of Social Workers is very concerned to hear that clothed body searches of women and female children are being carried out at Yarls Wood Detention Centre and urges that the practice should stop immediately. This is in direct contravention of the UN convention of the Rights of the Child (1) .Women and female children in custody have already experienced the trauma of imprisonment and many will be badly affected by searches by men which are in contravention to their religious and cultural beliefs. Some of the women and children who are being detained will inevitably have experienced sexual abuse , and such searches will be experienced as another potential assault . It must also be possible that searches of female children by men provides a very worrying model of inappropriate behavior and may lead to these children finding it difficult to set appropriate boundaries in their relationships with adult men putting them at further risk of exploitation .

Indeed guidance issued by the Kings College International Centre for Prison Studies, states that "clothed body searches can cause considerable embarrassment and humiliation. In most countries where male staff work in women's prisons they are not permitted to carry out body searches of women prisoners though there are exceptions, for example the United States, where male staff carry out clothed body searches" (2)

1. The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child states that "Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person" and Article Ten, United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person."

2. Kings College International Centre for Prison Studies 2004

Nellie de jongh
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