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.