Befriending group welcomes recommendations in report on immigration detention centres

Yarl's Wood detention centre.
Yarl's Wood detention centre.

A group that befriends women who are being held at Yarl’s Wood has welcomed a report that calls for a 28-day limit on the time that immigrants can be held there.

The cross-party MP report recommends a complete overhaul of the detention system for asylum seekers following May’s General Election.

It was published the day after an undercover report by Channel 4 News revealed shameful behaviour of officers working at the already much criticised Yarl’s Wood.

In the past there have been allegations of sexual abuse and women detainees being watched while in the shower or using the toilet by male workers.

Heather Jones from the charity Yarl’s Wood Befrienders said of the TV footage: “We are not exactly surprised but it is very shocking to see it portrayed like that.

“Even one incident of that sort of attitude is just not acceptable.”

Secret filming, aired on Monday evening, showed a member of the management team describing detainees as ‘caged animals’ and another is heard telling a colleague to ‘take a stick in’.

The report also revealed incidents of self harming including cutting and women jumping into stairwells to injure themselves.

Heather said a limit on the time people can be held would be ‘absolutely brilliant’.

“If you go to prison you know when you are coming out but here some people are detained for very long periods of time.

“The report has some very strong recommendations. I certainly agree that detention is use disproportionately.

“Huge amounts of money have been spent on running detention centres and also compensation on people who then have a claim for unlawful detention.”

She said despite this there has been no increase in the numbers of people being removed from the country and many at Yarl’s Wood are eventually released back into the community.

“I would like to see this country rely far less heavily on detention,” said Heather.

Yesterday, Yarl’s Wood was discussed in the House of Commons after it was raised as an urgent question following C4’s revelations.

North East Beds MP Alistair Burt, whose constituency covers Yarl’s Wood, has expressed his ‘deep concern’ about the actions of officers from Serco, which runs the centre on behalf of the Home Office.

He said: “The remarks broadcast had no justification, and both the government and Serco have taken appropriate action. But I am worried that once again we have the sort of incident concerning Serco employees we have seen before – why are these incidents still taking place?

“At the same time the main inspection bodies’ responsible for Yarl’s Wood, the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Independent Monitoring Board at Yarl’s Wood, both highly responsible and independent of the Home Office and Serco, make reports which give a very different picture of the work of the centre than that of Channel 4. Now either the inspections are missing something substantial, or the overall culture is not as portrayed.

“I want to see those discrepancies analysed, and an answer as to why they occur.

“Action needs to be taken now. Serco’s management are to blame at senior level for not getting a hold on a culture in which such attitudes and remarks could be expressed. They now have a hard job to convince me or anyone else that they can handle the job of cleaning up such a culture.”

Serco has launched an investigation and two members of staff have been suspended with more expected to follow.

Mr Burt also called for more transparency and for journalists to be given access to Yarl’s Wood.

The Bedford Times and Citizen has previously requested access but this was declined by the Home Office.

Last night (Tuesday), detainees at Yarl’s Wood held a peaceful protest in response to their treatment.

For previous stories click here:

Another person is suspended from Yarl’s Wood and more are facing sanctions following C4 investigation

Urgent question about Yarl’s Wood due to be asked in Parliament following shocking undercover filming report