The leader of the Green Party said Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre “should be a source of great shame for this country”.
Speaking in support at the mass demonstration to close the Bedfordshire centre, on Saturday (June 6), Natalie Bennett said: “The women being detained at Yarl’s Wood have often already endured terrible traumas, fleeing war, rape and torture in their home countries to come to the UK in search of safety.
“The fact that they are greeted with imprisonment at all is a disgrace, but the fact they are held in a facility where reports of sexual assaults and violence are common should be a source of great shame for this country.”
Her message was echoed by Bedford and Kempston MP Richard Fuller who is calling for an end to detention of asylum seekers.
The politicians spoke at the #SetHerFree protest, which saw more than 400 people tear down fences and chant messages of support for those inside.
They were joined by actresses Juliet Stevenson and Romola Garai, along with comedian Josie Long, Labour peer Baroness Kennedy QC and Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti.
Ms Bennett said: “The Green Party calls for an end to the detention of all asylum seekers.
“The UK must fulfil its international obligations to accept more refugees, particularly from Syria, and must end the culture of suspicion and disbelief that leaves hundreds of asylum seekers locked up in appalling conditions, simply for seeking a better life for themselves.
“Other countries don’t act like this. Sweden receives twice the number of applications for asylum as Britain, yet it only locks up 3,000 people each year in immigration detention, and then for an average of five days, while Britain locks up 30,000 people a year. Britain is the only country in Europe without time limits on how long it can detain people subject to immigration controls.
“The human cost of our system is utterly unacceptable.”
The protest came after more than 100,000 people signed a petition to close the centre and end the detention of women who seek asylum, started by Meltham Avcil, who was detained at Yarl’s Wood with her mother for three months when she was just 13.
Meanwhile, a councillor has revealed that a Bedford Borough Council review into Yarl’s Wood is proving to be a bigger job than expected.
Councillor Louise Jackson, who until recently was head of the Yarl’s Wood health services review sub-committee, said: “When we started the work we thought it could be done in a relatively short time span but a lot has happened since then, obviously there has been another tragic death at the site.”
The committee published an interim report before the General Election. It recommended that Serco’s management team take up council training on the safeguarding of vulnerable adults, that counselling services be introduced for detainees and asked that the Home Secretary investigates the decisions to detain pregnant women, people with mental health issues and the victims of abuse.