Woman at Yarl's Wood in Bedford tests positive for the coronavirus

Charity calls for the detention centre to close due to pandemic

Monday, 23rd March 2020, 11:41 am
Updated Monday, 23rd March 2020, 11:42 am

A woman being held at Yard's Wood has tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting calls for the detention centre to be closed.

According to charity Women for Refugee Women (WRW) the measures being put in place are confusing and poorly implemented.

Women have told WRW that there has been a lax attitude to hygiene, with detainees having to ask staff to remind others to wash hands.

Yarl's Wood (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

They said women were given masks and gloves and told to wash their hands every half an hour – but that they were only given one pair of gloves and one mask each and no information about how to use them effectively.

One woman, who has been in the centre for more than a fortnight, said: “Now they are taking precautions, but they were taking no precautions until yesterday. So right now everyone is panicking. We know there is a pandemic going on and here we are not being given the means to protect ourselves.”

Another woman who has serious underlying health conditions, said: “I am so scared that I will die. I am not a young woman and my health problems mean that I am at high risk. I feel so afraid.”

Another woman added: “I don’t feel safe. I’ve locked myself away and am not talking to anyone because I have asthma and am afraid for my health. I just want to get out. This whole thing is just terrifying.”

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women, said: “Immigration detention is pointless and cruel even in normal circumstances. From what women are telling us now, even basic precautions have not been taken at the centre to prevent and deal with a COVID-19 infection.

"Many of the women in detention have underlying health conditions that would make them even more at risk if infected. The Home Office is putting already vulnerable women at risk through its chaotic and inhumane system of detention. It is time to close the detention centre, and ensure that every individual receives the support they need to protect themselves and others during this pandemic.”

The Home Office said: "Existing, well-developed procedures are in place to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases and removal centres are prepared if cases are identified. Plans are in place for dealing with staff absences if staff working in removal centres need to self-isolate.

"Handwashing facilities are available to people in detention, staff and visitors and we have worked closely with suppliers to ensure the supply of soap and cleaning materials."