‘Men watch Yarl’s Wood women in the shower and on the toilet’

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

Women being kept at Yarl’s Wood detention centre are seen in the shower and on the toilet by male officers, a new report claims.

The report, released by the charity Women for Refugee Women, spoke to 38 detainees about their experiences at the notorious centre between June 2012 and October 2014.

Out of the 33 who spoke about men seeing them in intimate situations, 13 said that men saw them naked, 29 said men saw them partially dressed, 29 said men saw them in bed, 16 said men saw them in the shower and 14 revealed that men saw them using the toilet.

Out of the 19 women on suicide watch, 13 said that they were watched by men - 10 while they were in bed and eight while on the toilet.

The Home Office says that rules ban male staff from supervising women showering, dressing or undressing, even if they are under constant supervision. A spokesman said any breaches by the centre’s operators - Serco - would be fully investigated.

The report, published yesterday, highlights that many women asylum seekers are already vulnerable having survived rape, sexual violence and torture in the countries they have fled.

It also says that reports of sexual assault within Bedford’s Yarl’s Wood led to 10 staff being dismissed and claims that men continue to make sexual suggestions to the women being kept there.

From the sample of women spoken to, six said that staff had made sexual suggestions to them and three said they had been touched sexually.

Of the 35 women who answered questions about being searched, 13 - or a third - said they were searched by a male member of staff and one said she was asked to take her clothes off.

Two thirds - 22 women - said they experienced a man watching them while they were being searched by a female member of staff.

Women for Refugee Women aims to ensure that women and children seeking asylum in the UK are treated with justice and dignity and believes that detention has no place in the asylum process.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “As the report itself makes clear, the allegations in this report are uncorroborated — so we have invited Women for Refugee Women to supply details of the cases in question so that they can be investigated fully.

“The latest independent inspection by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons found that Yarl’s was a respectful and safe place.”

MP for North East Beds Alistair Burt described the report as ‘disturbing’ and said he will be contacting the Independent Monitoring Board to gauge their views on the report and will ensure the allegations are fully investigated.