Not content with keeping them detained in Yarl’s Wood where they have suffered violence and racist abuse (now minus five who were bum rushed out in an attempt to stop the strike, see below) she has launched a propaganda assault. She sent a letter (pdf) to every MP claiming everything there is just peachy keen, however her fellow Labour MP Dianne Abbot has written in the Guardian a refutation of her claims- Meg Hillier may deny the extent of the poor conditions at the asylum detention centre, but I have seen them for myself– further to this here is another answer to her propaganda, her points with corresponding correction from Women Against Rape and Black Women’s Rape Action Project-who are in contact with the hunger strikers-
Meg Hillier, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, has written to every MP denying that women are still on hunger strike: “Whilst there are a small number of detainees refusing formal meals from the canteen, they are buying food from the centre’s shop and vending machines and having food delivered by visitors.”
34 women wrote denying these lies and pointing out that visitors are banned from bringing in food.
Other false claims in the government letter include:
1. “Women are only removed after their cases have been ‘fully considered.” Rape survivors and victims of other torture are still routinely assessed under the fast-track, where a case is settled in 10 days leaving no time to gather expert reports crucial to corroborating a claim of persecution. 99% of cases are refused. Listen to this week’s Woman’s Hour interview with Isata Denton Ceesay of All African Women’s Group, whose case was fast tracked, and Gauri van Gulik, Human Rights Watch on their report “Fast-Tracked Unfairness.”
Reliable legal representation is almost impossible to find. Appointments with lawyers at the Legal Services Commission clinic in Yarl’s Wood are at max 35 minutes long and often less. Many women come to AAWG & BWRAP with claims which have been refused without the evidence of rape, torture and persecution being considered. How much more is spent by the Home Office opposing asylum claims than is spent on legal aid by people trying to make a claim? Evidence of blatant hostility, racism and other discrimination by Home Office case workers is well documented.
2. “Detainees prolong their detention by appealing.” Women are increasingly denied the right to appeal in the UK or end up representing themselves leading to great injustice. Research has exposed Immigration Judges systematic hostility and discrimination (Misjudging Rape: Breaching Gender Guidelines & International Law in Asylum Appeals). In addition, when women win their claim, sometimes after years, the HOME OFFICE APPEALS! We are in touch with three women in Yarl’s Wood in this situation – one who has been in since June 2009 and won her case in October. She is in detention waiting for a hearing which is not till the end of March.
3. “Yarl’s Wood has free on-site primary healthcare provision and this reflects the level of care provided by NHS general practices.” Similar claims were made a few years back but a HM Inspector of Prisons report found: “weak clinical governance systems, inadequate staff training, insufficient mental health care . . . unresponsiveness of the IND to clinical concerns about an alleged history of torture or adverse medical consequences of continued detention.” (1) Complaints of brutal, unresponsive health care continue to flood in including women recently released from detention who spoke in the House of Commons
4. “Any claims that one detainee is on the verge of renal failure, or that others are suffering ill health as a result are false.” Please contact Dr Frank Arnold of Medical Justice for his statement confirming his examination of this woman and his findings.
5. “. . . a detainee claims she should have her case looked at because she is not a criminal and has a little girl. In fact she was previously convicted of a serious criminal offence and is subject to legal restrictions by the courts for access to one of her children.” Singling out one mother to discredit the hunger strikers shows the level of desperation at the Home Office. Ms A, who this refers to, had only been in the UK for seven weeks and was destitute when she was convicted of child neglect after her son was injured by one of the people she was dependent on for housing. She was severely depressed at the time but unable to get her medication – all of which the judge took into account when sentencing her. She served her sentence and is therefore entitled to say. She is not a criminal, she’s a distraught mother, traumatised by knowing how her children are suffering without her. She is now in danger of being deported and permanently separated from her children
Government and media hype about “dangerous foreign criminals” living in Britain has led to thousands of immigrant people, many of whom are convicted of minor offences of survival and poverty, being swept up in raids, detained and deported. Some hunger strikers were destitute when they were convicted of shoplifting or using fake documents to work, enrol in college, or open a bank account. Others were convicted of travelling on false documents when they came to the UK to escape persecution. Use of this offence to dismiss an asylum claim was condemned by Judge Sedley as a “serious invasion of judicial independence.” (2) Even drug convictions are almost always because of severe poverty or coercion, where mothers, who are in fear of their own and their children’s lives, or don’t know where their next meal is coming from, have agreed to carry or sell small amounts of drugs. All are people of colour and easy targets for an institutionally racist police force and court system.
6. A denial of “incidents of racial abuse and violence directed at detainees.” Complaints of racist abuse are in statements given to lawyers and are being pursued. There are too many and they are too consistent for there to be any serious doubt about their veracity. The report Outsourcing Abuse (3) documents almost 300 cases of alleged assault of detainees by immigration staff between 2004 and 2008. We look forward to the Independent Monitoring Board’s report and to Serco, the multi-national which runs Yarl’s Wood, responding to MPs request to providing unedited CCTV footage.
7. “The current misreporting, based on inaccurate and fabricated statements by those who campaign against our policy, is irresponsible as it causes unnecessary distress to the women at Yarl’s Wood.” We are in daily contact with hunger strikes and they have consistently pressed us to publicise their situation saying that media coverage is the best protection against retribution and further violence. Their hand written statements listing their complaints and demands were specifically done for the media. Some have expressed their fear of what would have happened if there had been no publicity.
22 FEBRUARY STATEMENT:
“We the undersigned have been on hunger strike since the 5/02/10 to date.. At no particular point in time have we gone to eat in the dining room, got food from the vending machines or at the shop. We would also like to point out that Yarl’s Wood has a no food, no drink policy, this has always been the case therefore saying that “visitors bring us food” is untrue.“
Signed by 34 women.
Lawyers are launching a legal challenge on behalf of four women held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, claiming their incarceration amounts to “cruel, inhumane and degrading” treatment that breaches their human rights. What you can do to help-
1. Ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion 919 “Hunger Strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre” (see below). You might want to send them the update so they are armed against Home Office propaganda.
2. Write to ministers demanding: that mothers, victims of rape and other torture and all vulnerable women be immediately released; an independent investigation into the treatment of hunger strikers; a moratorium on all removals and deportations.
The Yarl’s Wood Five-
Denise McNeil from Jamaica
Aminata Camara from Guinea
Sheree Wilson from Jamaica
Shellyann Stupart from Jamaica
Gladys Obiyan from Nigeria
UK citizens cannot be remanded to prison, except they have been brought before a judge and the judge orders it so. Denise, Aminata, Sheree, Shellyann, and Gladys, have not and will not be brought before a judge, they have been remanded to prison on the whim of Phil Woolas MP, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration.
The detained women are asking you to Email/fax/phone/write to: Rt. Hon Alan Johnson, MP, Secretary of State for the Home Office, requesting that Denise, Aminata, Sheree, Shellyann, and Gladys, are returned to Yarl’s Wood immediately or released into the community.
Model letter is below which you can copy/amend/write your own version, there are no Home Office reference numbers available as the women were moved from Yarl’s Wood, with out their belongings.
Please let the campaign know of faxes/emails sent:
Please keep sending Solidarity messages
Rt. Hon Alan Johnson, MP
Secretary of State for the Home Office
3rd Floor, Peel Buildings
2 Marsham St
London SW1 4DF
Telephone: 020 7035 0195
Fax: 0870 336 9034
Dear Mr. Johnson,
I have been following events at Yarl’s Wood, since Monday 8th February 2010; there has been considerable coverage in the press and on TV, a debate in Parliament, (House of Commons / Feb 2010: Column 1006). An Early Day Motion, EDM 919: Hunger Strike At Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, was tabled on 23rd February 2010.
Aminata, Sheree, Shellyann, and Gladys, were resident in Yarl’s Wood IRC on Monday 8th February 2010, when an absolute and unwarranted response to a peaceful hunger strike by Serco staff, led to eight hours of chaos. Many of the detainees were injured.
Aminata, Sheree, Shellyann, and Gladys, were removed from association and transferred to Bedford police station, where they remained overnight. They were then transferred to Colnbrook STHF and on Thursday 11th February; Aminata & Shellyann were moved to HMP Bronzefield and Gladys & Sheree to HMP Holloway.
Denise McNeil, was put into segregation in Yarl’s Wood on Monday 8th February and remained there till Sunday 20th. Then she was moved to Colnbrook STHF and remained there in segregation until Friday 26th February, when she was moved to HMP Holloway.
None of the women have been charged with any offences or were in any way involved in any actions at Yarl’s Wood that were other than peaceful. As you know, UK citizens cannot be remanded to prison, except they have been brought before a judge and the judge orders it so.
Denise, Aminata, Sheree, Shellyann, and Gladys, have not and will not be brought before a judge, they have been remanded to prison on the whim of Phil Woolas MP, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration.
On Tuesday, Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, and John Vine, the agency’s chief inspector, are expected to be questioned by the home affairs select committee over the claims, that women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre were physically abused by officers during hunger strike, which are denied by staff.
No doubt there will be a full investigation into the events of Monday 8th February 2010, until that investigation is completed. Denise, Aminata, Sheree, Shellyann, and Gladys, should under no circumstances be detained in a prison establishment.
I am requesting that Denise, Aminata, Sheree, Shellyann, and Gladys, are returned to Yarl’s Wood, where there are bed spaces, or released into the community immediately.