By Gemma Lousley, Policy & Research Co-ordinator at Women for Refugee Women
The Set Her Free campaign to end the detention of women who seek asylum has gathered real momentum since we launched at Parliament in January 2014. In recent weeks – with the Channel 4 News undercover investigation into Yarl’s Wood, and the publication of the Parliamentary detention inquiry report – more and more people have come to understand why it is that women who seek asylum should not be locked up.
We have been heartened by some responses from political parties to the need for reform of immigration detention, and the publication of the party manifestos makes some of the current pledges and policies clear.
The Conservative manifesto doesn’t mention immigration detention. In February the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced a review into the welfare of ‘vulnerable persons’ in immigration detention, although Women for Refugee Women and many others have concerns about the limited scope of the review. A number of Conservative members of Parliament were on the panel of the Parliamentary detention inquiry, however, and have been vocal on the need for reform.
Labour’s manifesto follows up on the commitment they made at the end of last year, that they will “end detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual abuse or trafficking”. This is repeated in their separate Manifesto for Women, which adds that they will “order an independent investigation into the allegations of abuse of women at Yarl’s Wood”.
Labour also reiterates a more recent pledge, made just before the beginning of General Election campaigning, to “end the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system”. Similarly, the Liberal Democrat manifesto promises to “end indefinite detention for immigration purposes”.
The Green Party manifesto explains they will “ensure that no prospective immigrant is held in detention”, adding that “as a matter of urgency, the administrative detention of children and pregnant women should cease immediately”.
While it isn’t entirely clear who falls under the category of ‘prospective immigrant’, those who have had claims for asylum refused appear to be encompassed within this: in the section on ‘Equalities’, the manifesto promises to “end the detention of LGBTIQ (and other) asylum seekers and the culture of disbelief that often denies them refugee status”.
Finally, the SNP manifesto sets out that they “will ask the UK government to conduct an early review of the current immigration detention system and regime, in order to deliver a fairer and more effective system”.
It’s promising to see these commitments, but there is no room for complacency. After the election we will be keeping up the pressure to ensure the real change that is needed actually happens. On 6 June, we and many other concerned organisations and individuals will be gathering outside Yarl’s Wood, asking the newly-formed government to put an end to the traumatic and unnecessary detention of women seeking sanctuary in the UK. There will be songs, speeches, and hope. Do join us.
You can find out more about the protest at Yarl’s Wood on 6 June here. Do get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to find out about transport to the protest or if you would like to come to the pre-protest banner making and song rehearsal day in London!