Women for Refugee Women welcomes today’s announcement by the Shadow Home Secretary that Labour would end the detention of women who have survived torture and sexual violence, and would hold an independent investigation into Serco’s management of Yarl’s Wood detention centre.
Last year, nearly 2000 women who had sought asylum in the UK were detained in Yarl’s Wood. Evidence suggests that the majority of these had survived rape, sexual violence and other torture.
Today in the Observer Yvette Cooper announces that ‘the continued problems of holding pregnant women, trafficking victims and people who may have been tortured needs to be investigated and ended immediately.’
Natasha Walter from Women for Refugee Women says: ‘‘We are pleased that the shadow Home Secretary is responding to growing concern around the detention of women who seek asylum. We would be delighted to see an end to the detention of those who have survived rape and other torture. In the current system, too many women are being locked up when they come here to seek safety. We hope that representatives of other political parties will also now step up to say how they would end this suffering.’
Yvette Cooper also announced that a Labour government would launch an independent review of Serco’s management of Yarls Wood. Natasha Walter from WRW says: ‘We would welcome an independent review of Serco’s management of Yarl’s Wood. It is extraordinary that the contract to manage this detention centre has been re-awarded to this company when there are still so many unanswered questions about the behaviour of its staff and its treatment of vulnerable women in Yarl’s Wood.’
Women for Refugee Women launched Set Her Free, the campaign against the detention of women who seek asylum, in January 2014. The charity published research showing that the majority of women who seek asylum and are detained are survivors of sexual violence or torture and that detention has a very negative impact on their mental health. The campaign has been supported by many organisations and individuals, including the writer Zadie Smith, the actress Romola Garai and the Women’s Institute.
Zadie Smith said: ‘We need urgently to address the outrage of Yarl’s Wood. Its continued existence is an offence to liberty, a shame to any civilised nation, and a personal tragedy for the women caught in its illogical grip.’ Romola Garai talks about her recent visit to Yarl’s Wood in a short film here.
The petition against the detention of women seeking asylum was started by Meltem Avcil, who was detained herself when she was 13 years old. It is at www.change.org/refugeewomen and has over 50,000 signatures.
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