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Concerns Raised Over Immigration Removal Centre

Concerns have been raised about the ability of one of the UK’s main immigration removal centres to meet the needs of the vulnerable women held there.

The concerns were highlighted in a report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons’ unannounced inspection of the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire.

Yarl’s Wood apparently held 354 detainees at the time of the inspection. Most were single women but the centre also held a small number of adult families and a short-term holding facility held single men.

The concerns raised in the report include:

  • in a survey, 54% of the women held said they felt depressed or suicidal when they first arrived;
  • 45% of women said they felt unsafe, saying it was due to the uncertainty of their immigration status, a poor introduction to the centre, very poor health care and having too few visible staff on the units;
  • some women were detained for long periods and some of the most vulnerable women were detained without clear reason;
  • 99 pregnant women had been detained in 2014, despite the Home Office’s policy stating pregnant women should not normally be detained; and
  • Rule 35 reports, which should protect detainees who have been tortured, lacked detail and were perfunctory.

Inspectors were, however, pleased to find that:

  • the short-term holding facility was decent and clean, staff were professional and most of the men only stayed a few days;
  • security was generally thoughtful and proportionate and some of the most intrusive elements of physical security had been removed;
  • women reported positively on the help given to them to prepare for removal or release and a small number of voluntary organisations provided important services; and
  • visit provision was good and detainees had good access to the internet.

“Yarl’s Wood has deteriorated since our last inspection. In my view, decisive action is needed to ensure that women are only detained as a last resort,” commented Chief Inspector, Nick Hardwick. “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.”

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