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Shocking new report on detention of women asylum seekers


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A new report from Women For Refugee Women (‘WFRW’) sheds a sickening light on the conditions for women asylum seekers detained in Yarl’s Wood IRC. 70 per cent of the women they interviewed that were guarded by men said that the very presence of male staff made them feel uncomfortable. They spoke about male staff bursting into their rooms when they were undressed or watching them going to the toilet.

One disclosed that she had been sexually abused in detention. Half had suffered verbal abuse from guards, three had been physically assaulted. One described seeing an old woman coming back from the airport with cuts and bruises to her face, saying she had been hit by the guards.

The report is a compelling collection and analysis of the voices of detainees themselves and has received some media interest (for example, in: The Courier; The Mirror; The Belfast Telegraph; and, The Independent).

In 2012, around 31 per cent of women who claimed asylum in their own right (rather than as dependants  on someone else’s claim) were detained.  That was 1902 out of 6071 women.  The report explains how poor screening processes result in women being detained despite being victims of torture or human trafficking.

The WFRW report
The WFRW report

The poor quality of decision making in the Home Office has previously been criticised by UNHCR and continues through the process, with women’s experiences of persecution being particularly poorly understood.  About 25 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women asylum applicants have their refusal overturned on appeal.  The report shows that most of the sample (40 out of 43) had suffered gender-related persecution including rape, sexual violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced prostitution, either by state authorities or against which state authorities failed to protect them.

The Detained Fast Track process was found to cause particular problems for women who had suffered sexual violence and found it impossible to disclose all the details, perhaps soon after arrival or after years of concealing their experiences, perhaps in front of male interviewers and interpreters.

According to the report, detention is enormously expensive, costing about five times as much as providing support to asylum applicants outside detention.  On 4 February 2010, the Government reported in Parliament that the average overall cost of one bed per day in the immigration detention estate is £120 (included in these estimates are the costs incurred by incidents such as fires in IRCs and legal fees) (Hansard 2010).

Further, the report suggests that detention is not, in any case, particularly effective in its purported aim of assisting removal, since only 36 per cent of the women who had sought asylum and left detention in 2012 were removed from the UK. Almost two third were released into the community either with leave or to continue the application process. In this study, the average length of detention was two months and the range was three days to 11 months, with the UK one of the few countries in Europe refusing to implement a maximum length of detention.

The research shows that detention is expensive and ineffective, being over-used due to poor decision making in the Home Office and being carried out by G4S (and others) in ways that are abusive and damaging.  The use of male staff to guard vulnerable women needs to stop; the abuse of privacy needs to stop; verbal, physical and sexual abuse of women needs to stop; and, the detention of asylum -seekers who pose no risk to the public needs to stop.

WFRW has exposed what’s happening.  Now it’s up to you.

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Picture of Jo Wilding

Jo Wilding

Jo Wilding is a barrister at Garden Court and a researcher at the University of Sussex, specialising in legal aid and access to legal advice. She has written extensively on the legal aid market and the geographies of access to immigration legal advice. Her latest report, with Refugee Action, looks at demand for and provision of legal advice in all areas of the UK: https://www.ragp.org.uk/reports


12 Responses

  1. I recall a shocking TV programme on this issue about ten years ago. Sad the Labour gov’t did nothing except promote more detention and sign contracts with G4S etc.

    1. On the subject of male staff committing acts such as the ones suggested, if that kind of thing had gone on then there would have been a very in depth enquiry and investigation resulting in the detention and prosecution of the staff allegedly involved in these acts.

      Again this publication is reporting as fact the stories of desperate people wanting a better life in the UK as they are economic migrants and certainly not asylum cases. There might be a few that are true cases and it is hoped that they are found to be true and granted.

  2. They could go home if they find it so shocking. Just a thought. Also where do we get these stats from about the women being tortured and abused in their home country? People will lie and do lie to get what they want.

    What would this organisation propose as an alternative? Let everyone have asylum in the UK and effectively bring the country to a halt?

    This organisation seems to think with its heart and not with its head. Look at the facts in front and stop believing what desperate people claim to have happened to them,

  3. I left views that challenged the assumptions made in this article. They have been removed. How sad that no debate is possible, just propaganda.

  4. ‘The poor quality of decision making in the Home Office has previously been criticised by UNHCR and continues through the process, with women’s experiences of persecution being particularly poorly understood. About 25 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women asylum applicants have their refusal overturned on appeal.’

    …So that’s 75% and 70% of decisions, respectively, that are upheld on appeal. These statistics don’t support your assumption that the HO frequently churns out low quality decisions. They suggest that the majority of asylum decisions taken by the Home Office are sustainable. Not to mention that some of the allowed appeals are allowed on the basis of evidence that wasn’t before the original decision maker, meaning that the original decisions aren’t necessarily wrong.

    Yes, some decisions are shockingly bad, but this isn’t as widespread as you seem to make out.

    1. PO, that doesn’t mean all the rest are upheld on appeal, because not all asylum decisions are appealed. Also a proportion of those are fast-track appeals and as we all know, those are grossly unfair and don’t allow people time to collect any evidence- or even to recover enough from their ordeals to be able to disclose everything that’s been done to them. You also have to bear in mind that many people are either unable to get any representation for their appeals or are represented badly so not all dismissed appeals reflect that the applicant was lying or not entitled to asylum. Obviously as a Home Office employee you will take a different perspective from me on the quality of decision making, but as I said, this is a criticism made by UNHCR, not just imigration lawyers.

  5. Indi, I’m interested to know why you think there “would have been a very in depth enquiry” or prosecution of the staff involved. There is no real history of such investigations of complaints by immigration detainees and in fact when women made complaints of sexual abuse in detention some of the witnesses were removed from the UK before they could give their witness statements to police.

    You ask what the alternative is, “let everyone have asylum in the UK”. The article is not talking about who should be given asylum but rather about how we treat people while their asylum applications are processed. The alternative to detention, where a person poses no risk of harm to the public, is to process their application in the community which, as pointed out above, is significantly cheaper. It’s also about the conditions in which people are detained.

    Your assumption that people are lying and that “they are economic migrants and certainly not asylum cases” reflects exactly that culture of disbelief. There is no basis or evidence for your assumption that only a few are “true cases”. Unfortunately, as explained in the article and the report, there are numerous woman-specific forms of persecution out there and a great many countries in which women face serious discrimination and harm merely because they are women.

    1. JO who ever came to United Kingdom of course they had a bad story now you are saying not taking any asylums why don’t realise for poor people as i am from Iraq in 2003 UK and USA came to their they destroy all humans in my country now you tell me how many people died just people like you never see poor life hate all other people now am in Untied Kingdom i had full evidence that what happens to me but didnt believe me cos kind of people like you but let me tell you home office telling every asylums that lied you don’t need to say that we lie the home office clever then you let as have a better life we feel safe here just leave us alone don’t be racist racist !!!!