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Yarl’s Wood hunger strike letter undermines official stance on protests


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A Home Office letter handed to hunger strikers at Yarl’s Wood detention centre casts doubt on the department’s simultaneous insistence that the refusal of food may be for non-political reasons.

Last week, Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford suggested that the 120 women refusing food and fluid at the notorious facility might be doing so for “dietary and religious reasons”.

But a letter handed to women on hunger strike was issued under the policy that applies only to those refusing food and fluid “as a form of protest”.

Among other things, the Home Office note said that

The fact that you are currently refusing food and/or fluid: may, in fact, lead to your case being accelerated and your removal from the UK taking place sooner.


The letter is copied almost word for word from the official policy on hunger strikes in immigration detention and has aroused considerable sympathy for the hunger strikers.

The policy, Care and management of detainees refusing food and/or fluid, kicks in where someone in immigration detention

has refused meals prepared and provided by the supplier (for 48 hours) and/or fluids (for 24 hours) as a form of protest (the protest may be against a range of factors, including ongoing detention).

Detainees refusing food are supposed to be offered a medical appointment to make sure that there are no “no food allergies or dietary requirements causing the refusal”.

The policy goes on to say that

Detainees who fall outside this definition because they do not like the food on offer within in an IRC will not be included in the processes set out in this instruction.

In other words, someone refusing food for “dietary or religious reasons” would not be sent the letter above, which is one of of the processes laid down for hunger strikes undertaken as a form of protest.

Lady Williams told the House of Lords on 27 February, in response to a question about the Yarl’s Wood hunger strike:

There may be a multitude of reasons for refusing food and fluid. As the noble Lord has pointed out, they may be in protest against their detention but there may also be dietary and religious reasons.

While it is not known how many hunger strikers have received the letter that contradicts this line, it is in any event hardly relevant to a situation where those refusing food have issued a detailed manifesto making clear the reasons for their protest.

The policy also shows that a Home Office unit with the cuddly moniker “FFR tactical group” meets weekly to discuss hunger strikes. It is supposed to:

  • discuss each case and agree actions that can be taken to expedite removal
  • consider if there is anything additional that could be done to expedite the case or manage it more effectively, including:
    • possible release plans (should release be considered appropriate or necessary)
    • any alternative options including proposals for re-detaining

Encouragingly, perhaps, for campaigners, FFR tactical group also has to take into account “strategic issues such as risk to business reputation [or] media interest”. There is no shortage of either.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.