Chief inspector of prisons expresses concern that Home Office refused to accept rape came within legal definition of torture
Increasing numbers of women are being detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre despite professional evidence that they are victims of torture, rape and trafficking, according to a report by the chief inspector of prisons.
Peter Clarke said he was concerned to find during an official inspection of the privately run detention centre in Bedfordshire that in two cases, the Home Office had refused, without explanation, to accept that rape came within the legal definition of torture.
The inspection, carried out in June, found conditions at Yarl’s Wood had improved since a highly critical report in 2015, when Serco, the private company running the centre, commissioned an external inquiry into allegations of physically and sexually abusive behaviour by staff.
Clarke said the atmosphere at Yarl’s Wood, which holds 300 people, mostly women, was far calmer, more respectful and relaxed than two years ago, but the Home Office’s handling of cases remained a principal concern. Male staff are no longer watching women on constant supervision or suicide watch, he said.
The chief inspector said the fact that two-thirds of the women at the removal centre were released after a period of detention rather than deported “raised questions about the justification for detention in the first place”.
He renewed his predecessor’s call for a strict time limit, saying when the inspection took place, 15 detainees had been held for between six months and a year, and one had recently been held in detention for more than three years.
But Clarke chose to highlight his concerns about the detention of women despite professional evidence of torture, rape and trafficking.
Inspectors reviewed a sample of ten “rule 35” assessment reports of vulnerable detainees and found four cases in which there was evidence that victims had suffered rape and sexual violence. In a fifth case, the doctor’s report was so lacking in detail it was impossible to tell whether the history of mistreatment included sexual violence.
“In some reports where torture was documented, there was a brief comment that detention would not be harmful, with little explanation as to how this conclusion had been reached,” they reported.
Natasha Walter, the director of Women for Refugee Women, a charity that has carried out extensive research at Yarl’s Wood, said the report corroborated its findings that vulnerable victims of torture and sexual violence were still being routinely locked up there.
“The government has stated its intention to move away from immigration detention and this needs to happen now. The majority of women held in Yarl’s Wood are not removed from the UK, but released back into the community, their detention having served no purpose,” she said.
“Asylum claims can be resolved more humanely and more efficiently while people are living in the community. It is time to ensure that the traumatic and unjust practice of detaining those seeking asylum is ended.”
She cited the case of “Voke” from west Africa, who escaped to Britain after being forced into prostitution by her stepfather and endured many years of abuse. Although the Home Office accepted a medical report showing she was a victim of gender-based violence, she remained detained for nearly eight months and attempted suicide twice. Voke was only released last month after a legal challenge. “I hope I will feel better soon, but I will never forget being detained. I will never forget Yarl’s Wood,” she said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls. It is vital these are carried out with dignity and respect, and we take the welfare of our detainees very seriously.
“We welcome the chief inspector of prisons’ recognition that improvements have been made at the centre and we are taking action to address the recommendations.”
They said victims of torture, trafficking or sexual violence were dealt with under the adults at risk in immigration detention policy. Anyone who fell within the scope of the policy was regarded as unsuitable for detention unless specific immigration circumstances outweighed vulnerability issues.Read more at theguardian.com