Yarls Wood: “A Place of National Concern”

Yarls Wood
Yarls Wood

Controversial Immigration detention centre Yarl’s Wood has been labelled a “place of national concern” after a scathing report revealed conditions have deteriorated.

Inspectors found dozens of pregnant women have been held at the facility in Bedfordshire against Government policy, while some are being held for more than a year because of “unacceptable” delays in processing their cases.

In one case a woman had been held for 17 months.

The prisons watchdog also found the centre is understaffed and healthcare services have declined “severely”

Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, called for “decisive action” to ensure women are only detained as “a last resort”.

He said: “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern. Other well-respected bodies have recently called for time limits on administrative detention, and the concerns we have identified provide strong support for these calls.”

Yarl’s Wood, which held 354 detainees at the time of inspections in April and May, has been beset by problems since it opened in 2001.

The last inspection in June 2013 concluded that the facility was improving, but Mr Hardwick said it has deteriorated.

The assessment by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found:

:: There are too many men working at the centre, which holds mainly women.

:: Care planning for women with complex needs is so poor that it put them at risk and pharmacy services are “chaotic”.

:: Staff entered women’s rooms without knocking.

:: Violent incidents have increased, with the number of reported assaults trebling in a year.

:: Almost half of female detainees (45%) said they feel “unsafe” due to the uncertainty of their immigration status, poor healthcare and having too few visible staff.

:: Four women reported instances of sexually inappropriate comments from staff, one reported “sexual contact” and one reported comments, contact and abuse in a survey. However, in separate interviews, no women said they were aware of staff being involved in any illegal activity of sexual abuse. HMIP said it did not find evidence of widespread abuse.

:: Most uses of force on detainees were “proportionate” but inspectors raised concerns about an incident in which an officer repeatedly struck at least two women with his shield as staff attempted to remove a detainee.

Inspectors raised particular concerns about the length of time some women were held for and the detention of vulnerable inmates “without clear reason”.

At the time of the inspection, 15 detainees had been held for between six months and a year, and four for more than a year.

Even though the Home Office’s own policy states that pregnant women should not normally be detained, 99 were held at Yarl’s Wood in 2014. Only nine were ultimately removed from the UK.

In the previous six months, 894 women were released back into the community – more than double the number (443) who were removed from the UK.

The report said this “raises questions about the validity of their detention in the first place”.

There were some positive findings. HMIP said the facility was clean, most detainees said staff treated them with respect, while recreational facilities and access to the internet were good.

Mr Hardwick said most staff “work hard to mitigate the worst effects of detention”, adding: “We should not make the mistake of blaming this on the staff on the ground.”

Maurice Wren, chief executive of Refugee Council, called for Yarl’s Wood to be closed.

He added: “The fact that people fleeing war and persecution are being locked away indefinitely in a civilised country is an affront to the values of liberty and compassion that we proudly regard as the cornerstones of our democracy.”

Serco, which has operated Yarl’s Wood since 2007, said it was “working very hard” to increase female staff numbers.

Julie Rogers, of Serco, which has operated Yarl’s Wood since 2007, added: “We are pleased that in (the report), they found that four out of five residents said that ‘staff treated them with respect’ and that they, ‘did not find evidence of a widespread abusive or hostile culture amongst staff’.”

John Shaw, of G4S, which provides health services, said the firm is “reconfiguring” the service to address a “growing number of more complex medical requirements” at the centre.

He said: “We have prioritised providing primary care and I am encouraged that inspectors have found that access to those services is good.

“There are now more GP hours delivered at the centre than ever before and no detainee waits more than three days for a non-emergency appointment.

“We are committed to working closely with the NHS to raise the standard of service at Yarl’s Wood and improve results for those who require medical care.”

An NHS England spokeswoman said it has been working closely with G4S to “ensure that rapid progress is made to achieve the high standards which we expect”.

She added they have “action plans” in place to address the concerns raised during a recent inspection and they will be reviewed in the light of the new report.

The NHS England spokeswoman added: “We are committed to ensuring patients can receive both the physical and mental health care they need when required at this centre.”

Yarls Wood high self harm

Yarls-Wood

Immigration detainees at the controversial Yarl’s Wood centre have required medical treatment after self-harming on average more than once a week in the last two years, official figures show.

The Home Office revealed that in 2014 there were 61 incidents of self-harm which required medical treatment, while in 2013 there were 74.

The revelation prompted warnings that immigration detention can cause mental illness and could lead to instances of self-harm among vulnerable inmates like survivors of torture or rape.

Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre near Bedford is run by Serco and houses nearly 400 detainees who are awaiting deportation, most of whom are women.

In March, Serco suspended two members of staff after a Channel 4 News investigation raised questions about standards of care at the centre, with one officer recorded saying “let them slash their wrists” and several others referring to detainees as “animals”.

The charity Medical Justice, which sends volunteer doctors to see immigration detainees and campaigns for the release of vulnerable people from detention, described the figures as “worrying”.

Emma Ginn, co-ordinator at Medical Justice, said: “These worrying statistics give an indication of how harmful indefinite immigration detention can be.

“Our volunteer doctors visit immigration detainees and have seen hundreds of cases of seriously inadequate healthcare.

“In many cases immigration detention exacerbates existing medical conditions and in some cases has been the cause of mental illness.

“There have been a number of fatalities including self-inflicted deaths and we fear that with no improvement in conditions there could be more.”

Tory MP for Bedford Richard Fuller said he wanted the Home Office to look at whether vulnerable asylum seekers who claim to have been tortured or abused should be housed in detention centres, even if they cannot prove their allegations.

He said: “It is fundamentally about whether places of detention are resulting in more instances of self-harm and whether there are alternatives that could be just as effective for removals but lead to less self-harm instances.

“Just because you cannot prove that you were a victim of torture or rape doesn’t mean it did not happen.

“This is an issue I would strongly urge the Home Office to look at.”

The figures were revealed by Home Office Minister Lord Bates in response to a written parliamentary question from crossbench peer Lord Hylton.

Lord Bates said: “Information is collated on the number of incidents of self-harm requiring medical treatment at Yarl’s Wood IRC. In 2013 there were 74 incidents and in 2014 there were 61.

“These are the number of incidents of self-harm requiring medical attention; they do not necessarily equate to the number of detainees requiring medical attention as one individual may have received medical attention on more than one occasion.”

Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered a review of detainees’ welfare, which is currently being conducted by the former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw and is due to report back in August.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said women who have been sexually abused, tortured or are pregnant should not be detained and called for an “urgent review” of Yarl’s Wood.

The Labour leadership contender said: “These figures are very disturbing and raise more serious concerns about the way Yarl’s Wood is being run. This follows allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, which have still not been investigated. The Government is overseeing the worst of all worlds in the asylum system – more people detained, and for longer, with fewer deportations. Too many women are left in a hellish limbo in detention centres.

Yarls Wood staff suspended after undercover investigation

Guards have been filmed making racist, sexist and threatening remarks at Yarl’s Wood
Guards have been filmed making racist, sexist and threatening remarks at Yarl’s Wood

A worker at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre has been suspended after a guard was secretly filmed calling inmates “caged animals”.

The investigation into the centre in Bedfordshire, which is run by private firm Serco, also raised concerns about self-harm by inmates.

The footage was filmed by an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News.

Serco said it had appointed former barrister Kate Lampard to carry out an independent review of its work.
Yarl’s Wood detention centre Yarl’s Wood is the main removal centre holding women and families facing deportation

The footage showed staff at Yarl’s Wood referring to inmates as “animals” and “beasties”.

One guard said: “They’re animals. They’re beasties. They’re all animals. Caged animals. Take a stick with you and beat them up. Right?”

A Freedom of Information Act request by Channel 4 News revealed there were 74 separate incidents of self-harm needing medical treatment at the centre in 2013.

One staff member is recorded saying: “They are all slashing their wrists apparently. Let them slash their wrists.” Another adds: “It’s attention seeking.”

James Thorburn, managing director of Serco’s Home Affairs business – which manages Yarl’s Wood – said: “We will not tolerate poor conduct or disrespect and will take disciplinary action wherever appropriate.

“We work hard to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are maintained at Yarl’s Wood and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has found the Centre to be a safe and respectful place.”
Gates at Yarl’s Wood Serco confirmed it had suspended a member of staff

He said the independent review was needed because the “public will want to be confident that Yarl’s Wood is doing its difficult task with professionalism, care and humanity”.

Serco confirmed it had suspended a member of staff.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance – we will accept nothing but the highest standards from companies employed to manage the detention estate.

“Last month, the Home Secretary commissioned an independent review of detainees’ welfare to be conducted by former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw, but these are clearly very serious and disturbing allegations which merit immediate scrutiny.

“All of our detention centres are part of a regular and rigorous inspection regime operated by independent monitoring boards and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons.

“Lapses in standards, when they are identified, are dealt with swiftly and effectively.”

Death at Yarls Wood detention centre

Yarls-Wood

An investigation has been launched following the death of a 40-year-old woman at Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire today.

The Home Office said the death was “sudden” and “unexplained.”

A spokeswoman from the Home Office said: “Sadly, we can confirm the death of a female detainee at Yarl’s Wood on March 30.”

“It would not be appropriate to comment further as the death is subject to a police investigation. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has been informed in line with standard procedure.”

Yashika Bageerathi, a 19-year-old-student who is awaiting deportation, has been at Yarl’s Wood since March 19.

She told Channel 4 news: “Today is just a bad day … Someone died in here. Everyone is sad. They just can’t believe it happened in here.”

Serco Staff Sacked Over Sex With Inmate

Yarls-Wood

Two staff at a privately-run immigration removal centre for women in Bedfordshire have been fired for engaging in sexual activity with a detainee.

A third employee at Serco-operated Yarl’s Wood was also sacked for failing to take any action when the female detainee reported the two men, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said.

It was reported last month that police were investigating claims that a 23-year-old Roma woman who was held at Yarl’s Wood was subject to inappropriate sexual behaviour from guards.

But inspectors found no evidence that a “wider culture of victimisation or systematic abuse” had developed following the new allegations of abuse at the 400-bed centre.

Mr Hardwick said: “We were concerned to find that two staff had engaged in sexual activity with a female detainee, something that can never be less than abusive given the vulnerability of the detained population, and these staff had rightly been dismissed.”

Mr Hardwick added: “Yarl’s Wood still holds detainees in the middle of a distressing and difficult experience and more thought needs to be given to meeting their emotional and practical needs.

“For the most vulnerable of the women held, the decision to detain itself appears much too casual.”

Yarl’s Wood holds mainly single adult women but also holds a number of adult families and there is a short-term holding facility for adult men.

Inspectors concluded that more female staff were needed urgently as there were not enough for a mainly women’s establishment.

A number of women at the centre – where none of the detainees have been charged with an offence or held through normal judicial circumstances – were detained for long periods, including one for almost four years.

Elsewhere, the surprise inspection found pregnant women had been held without evidence of exceptional circumstances required to justify their captivity. One of the women had been admitted to hospital twice because of pregnancy-related complications.

And detainees who had clear human trafficking indicators – such as one woman who had been picked up in a brothel – had not been referred to the national trafficking referral mechanism, as required.

Refugee Council women’s advocacy and influencing officer Anna Musgrave said: “Some of the findings of this inspection are shocking.

“Women in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable, with many likely to be victims of gender-based violence, so we’re horrified to hear that male officers enter women’s rooms without permission.

“It’s particularly disturbing that officials are not even following current policy and pregnant women are being detained without any clear reason.

“Pregnant women with insecure immigration status already have high-risk pregnancies and we believe they should not be detained under any circumstances. There is absolutely no excuse for compromising the health and well-being of a mother and her baby.

“This report shows that urgent changes are needed at Yarl’s Wood to ensure that vulnerable women feel safe and that their dignity is respected.”

Rachel Robinson, policy officer for Liberty, said: “Revelations of sexual abuse and the unjustifiable detention of vulnerable women still cast a dark shadow over Yarl’s Wood.

“Attempts to avoid scrutiny and challenge via cuts to legal aid and the nasty Immigration Bill would deny more victims a voice and leave the Government that bit freer to act with impunity.”

John Tolland, Serco’s contract director, said: “We are really pleased that this inspection report recognises the improvements Serco has made at Yarl’s Wood and considers it to be an establishment where residents feel safe and there is little violence.

“Our managers and staff have worked hard to establish and maintain good relationships with the residents, who are vulnerable people in the middle of a distressing and difficult experience.

“However, we are not complacent. As the HMCIP report says, we need to make further improvements and we are already working closely with the Home Office to implement their recommendations.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The evidence of abuse at Yarl’s Wood is appalling. The Home Office and Serco have a responsibility to act much faster and much more effectively to stamp out abuse and make sure vulnerable women get the support and help they need.

“Yarl’s Wood is improving much too slowly.

“The Home Office has still not told us how long it knew abuse was taking place at Yarl’s Wood. Or why it is still failing to spot the signs of trafficking or of mental illness.

“The Home Office cannot shirk responsibility. Serco may run the centre but it is up to the Home Office to make sure people are being treated humanely, with proper procedures and training in place.

“I called on the Home Secretary last month to get the independent UKBA inspectorate to review urgently the operation of outsourced centres run by private contractors such as Serco and we have heard nothing.

“This report shows the Home Office are failing in their duties and the Home Secretary needs to put that right immediately.

“Our immigration system must be efficient, effective and beyond reproach – especially in how it deals with vulnerable people. There cannot be any place for abuse anywhere within that system.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Detention is a vital tool that helps us remove those with no right to be in the country, but it is essential that our facilities are well run, safe and secure.

“Safeguarding those in our care is our utmost priority and misconduct is dealt with swiftly and robustly.

“We are carefully considering the contents of the report and will respond to each of its recommendations in due course.”