Video by Fran Freeman

Today, Women for Refugee Women releases new research finding that the Home Office is harming vulnerable Chinese women who have been trafficked to the UK by routinely locking them up for long periods of time in detention.

Over the last year, we have worked alongside Duncan Lewis Solicitors to support many Chinese women who have been trafficked into sexual exploitation or forced labour and then locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre by the Home Office.

The Home Office is flouting its own guidance that states that survivors of trafficking should not normally be detained and that they should be housed in safe accommodation and given emotional and practical support while their case is being considered.

Chinese women currently make up the largest group by nationality of women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Looking at the case files of 14 Chinese women detained in the last year, the report shows:

  1. The Home Office is detaining women who are encountered in exploitative situations – including women who are picked up in brothels and massage parlours – and ignoring the clear indicators that they are trafficked.
  2. The Home Office is flouting its own guidance in order to refuse trafficking cases, and not supporting women whom they have recognised as survivors of trafficking.
  3. These women are being kept in detention for very long periods – every one of the 14 cases considered was detained for more than a month – even when their mental health is clearly deteriorating.
It is time for real change, and to end the practice of immigration detention.

Chinese woman in Yarl’s Wood detention centre:

The gang leaders forced me to do things that I didn’t want to do, things that made me feel ashamed. They made me have sex with men who would come to the house where I was imprisoned. If I tried to refuse they would beat me and starve me. I would often go for three days with no food or water. Then one day men in uniforms came to the house. I was terrified and tried to hide but they found me. They dragged me out and took me to the police station. Later, I was put in another van. It drove for a long time through the night and ended up at Yarl’s Wood. I was taken from one hell to another.

Natasha Walter, director of Women for Refugee Women:

In all my time working with refugee and asylum-seeking women I have never heard stories more harrowing than those we are hearing from Chinese trafficked women in detention. These women have suffered extreme abuse and exploitation and do not receive the support and protection that is promised in policies. Instead, they are locked up and threatened with deportation. This situation must change now.

Shalini Patel, Duncan Lewis solicitors:

There is clear incompetence and sheer disregard for the safety of these women who have already been subjected to such horrendous sexual abuse and exploitation. These women are by no means fit for detention but despite this fact they are detained for months at a time with no adequate support.

Jess Phillips MP:

Hearing about Chinese women who are forced to have sex with more than ten men every day and beaten into submission is terrible. It is even more shocking to realise that when these women come to the attention of the Home Office, they are often being locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre rather than getting the support they need. It is time to stand up for the most vulnerable women in our society. The Home Office must carry out its own policies on trafficked women and ensure that they are protected.

Amy Chisholm, Clinical Psychiatrist at Helen Bamber Foundation:

In my role as a Clinical Psychologist I have worked with many highly vulnerable Chinese women who have been detained in Immigration Removal Centres. For these women it is clear that the experience of detention has exacerbated their already poor mental health. This exacerbation can occur via the intense anxiety created by fear of being returned at any moment to a place they believe they will again be harmed or killed. It can also occur via the environment reminding them of their previous experiences of abuse.