Following on from last week's attempts by the Home Office and UKBA to try and smear the Yarl's Wood hunger strikers and their supporters, the campaign around the hunger strike has hit back at both the blatant lies coming from the government and at the victimisation of the 5 women removed from Yarl's Wood and currently being held in HMP Holloway (Gladys Obiyan from Nigeria, and Denise McNeil and Sheree Wilson from Jamaica) and HMP Bronzefield (Aminata Camara from Guinea and Shellyann Stupart from Jamaica) without charge for their part in the action.
The group Public Interest Lawyers have begun an application for a judicial review of the government's detention policy on behalf of 4 of the 5 women (Aminata, Shellyann, Gladys & Sheree), claiming it breaches articles 3, 5 and 8 of the European convention on human rights. Denise is currently in the segregation unit at Holloway, and has now spent 23 days of isolation in a clear attempt to punish her for her open defiance of the Borders Agency, which includes the smuggling out of photos of injuries sustained in an assault by Serco guards after being identified as a 'ring leader' and forcibly dragged off to isolation. The Home Affairs Select Committee were supposed to hold a hearing into this alleged violence yesterday at the same time as the UKBA are meant to be holding an internal inquiry into allegations of racism amongst its own staff made by a whistleblower.
Denise escaped from Jamaica with her child after her brother was killed in gang wars and her family received death threats to stop them reporting to the police. Her other brother was deported to Jamaica on 29 January and was murdered there. She has been detained for 11 months, having been convicted and imprisoned for “racially aggravated assault” after police were called to an argument in a shop (she tried to return a defective toy she had brought for five-year-old son). She tried to stop police taking her son from her, was held down and accused of kicking a police man. One of the officers (all white) called her a 'Black bitch' to which she responded 'white bastard'. Her son and a second child she gave birth to in this country were taken into care and she now faces deportation. [See: Denise's reasons for being on hinger strike.]
Meanwhile, back in Yarl's Wood, the latest news is that at least 27 women are still refusing food. And this does mean not eating, not simply refusing canteen meals as the Home Office have alleged (see the video below for the hunger strikers explanation of this). It is also becoming ever more difficult to get in contact with the hunger strikes as Serco clamp down on all forms of communication with the outside world.
In other Yarl's Wood related news, there has been the timely release of a report entitled 'Fast-Tracked Unfairness: Detention and Denial of Women Asylum Seekers in the UK' by Human Right Watch. The report is based on 50 interviews with women, 17 who had either had direct experience of the Detained Fast Track (DFT) system, either in Yarl's Wood itself, pre-removal in other detention centres or post-release after a successful application. It concludes that women with complex asylum claims are regularly put into a system designed for straightforward ones, often involving female genital mutilation, trafficking, rape and domestic violence. As many of these asylum claims are based on violence inflicted on them by their husbands, relatives or other non-state people, the women also have to prove in their asylum claim that their home country does not offer them protection from that violence. These claims are legally complex and require expert evidence.
Additionally, these types of claims require sensitivity, time to build a basic level of trust, and knowledge of women’s rights and how they react to trauma. That’s why the fast-track rules already make an exception for torture and trafficking claims. The same exception should apply to claims based on sexual and gender-based violence. Basically, the system is too fast to be fair and not enough time is allowed to talk about sensitive issues such as rape and other forms of gender-based violence, thereby denying the women the chance to make a credible case. And all this occurs whilst the women, many of whom have been abused by the authorities in their countries of origin, are being held in what is effectively a glorified prison.
In other news, Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire, has called on Government Immigration Minister Meg Hillier to announce an Inquiry by HM Prisons Inspector Ann Owers to resolve present situation at Yarl’s Wood. Fat chance of that on past experience.
See also: 'The Real Distress At Yarl's Wood' by Diane Abbott, 'The Scandal That Is Yarl's Wood' - Melanie McFadyean & 'Campaigners Accuse Minister Of Smearing Hunger Strikers' by Paddy McGuffin
You can if you have time fax the governor HMP Holloway, requesting
Denise is immediately removed from segregation and returned to
Governor: Sue Saunders
HMP and YOI Holloway
Fax: 020 7979 4401
You could remind Sue as governor she is in charge of HMP Holloway to
receive women, who have been remanded to her care by a court of the
land. Denise, Sheree and Gladys are there on the whim of the
[If anyone wants/can visit the detainees, Denise McNeil, EP7333,
Gladys Obiyan, EP7241, Sheree Wilson, EP7242, HMP Holloway visit
booking, phone 020 7700 1567, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Demo In Solidarity With Yarl's Wood Five
Wednesday 3rd March 2010
6.:00 pm-7:30 pm
Outside Holloway Prison
(Nearest tube Caledonian Road, turn left out of station up Caledonian
road, turn left up Hillmarton Road, walk to top, HMP Holloway,
We are calling for the immediate release of the "Yarls Wood 5" and
all the other women still on hunger strike in the centre.
Please come and demonstrate outside HMP Holloway this Wednesday
Bring banners and instruments.
Close All Detention Centres! Stop Deportation!
Defend the Yarl's Wood Five - Release them from Prison Today!
Women on Hunger Strike, behind the Wire @ Yarl's Wood