Campaigners demand freedom for immigration detainees transferred to prison after protests
Campaigners are calling for the freeing from prisons around the country of five women asylum seekers, who have been held since last month when discontent boiled over into protest at Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre.
The women are being held at prisons in London, Peterborough, Manchester and Nottingham, and this week supporters have been organising demonstrations to raise awareness and call for their release from both prison and immigration detention.
"They haven't been charged with any crime, let alone convicted," says Movement for Justice (MFJ), a campaign group that, as part of its work, supports detained migrants. According to MFJ, "they have been put in prison by the UK Border Agency for exercising the fundamental democratic right to organise and protest in order to demand justice."
On Monday 15 October, following the attempted forcible deportation of a Yarl's Wood detainee, Christine, other women at the centre held mass meetings that led to the publication of a list of demands including an end to detention, deportations, the UK's "fast-track" asylum system, and more immediate demands such as respect for freedom of speech, expression, organisation and privacy.
By the end of that week, following protests both outside the UKBA's head office in Croydon and inside the centre - where over 100 women participated, of a total of around 400 - ten women perceived as central to the organisation of the protests were asked to go to meetings with the Yarl's Wood management.
At the time, the UK Border Agency told Statewatch this was so that the "concerns of detainees" could be "addressed in individual face-to-face meetings either with the people involved in the agency or the service provider."
A statement published by Movement for Justice, however, claims that "all these women were held in isolation in Kingfisher House [the isolation unit in Yarl's Wood] and their mobile phones were switched off. Most were told they would be taken to prison and Aderonke was told she would be charged with inciting a riot."
Five of those women were subsequently moved to prisons, although the UKBA have refused to say why.
"We don't comment on individual cases," said a UKBA spokesman. "On very limited occasions when it's unsuitable to detain someone for their safety they are transferred to other detention sites, including prisons."
Individual safety is clearly a concern for detainees from Yarl's Wood. One woman, referred to only as Aderonke at the request of her supporters, currently being held at Styal Prison near Manchester. She told Movement for Justice that she had been "held down violently, her head forced down and her arms twisted" by Yarl's Wood staff. When she was visited on Monday 22 October, "her foot and ankle were still swollen."
A similar complaint about treatment in Yarl's Wood has been made by a detainee called Sarah, to the Governor of Holloway Prison, where she is currently being held. She told an MFJ member who visited her on Thursday 25 October that "guards came to her room in Kingfisher and demanded to remove her coat; she refused because it was cold and was forced to the floor and held down violently by six guards."
Following the protests inside Yarl's Wood - after which detainees were held in a corridor and refused exit until they consented to being searched - UKBA told Statewatch that "whenever detainees do this we engage with them, we want to set up a good two-way dialogue and address their concerns."
With five women involved in organising the protests now in prison, supporters of the Yarl's Wood detainees remain sceptical of statements from UKBA on the follow-up to the protests.
A demonstration for Aderonke will be held on Saturday 10 November at 12:30 outside Styal Prison in Wilmslow, near Manchester, where one woman is being held.
'Justice for women in Yarl's Wood - No reprisals for demanding rights', Movement for Justice, 26.10.12
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