VULNERABLE women seeking asylum in Britain are still being locked up in detention centres where they suffer further trauma, a charity warns today.
In January 2016, an independent review recommended that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence should not be held in immigration detention centres but, despite changes in government policy, such women are still being locked up.
Women for Refugee Women spoke to 26 women who claimed asylum and were detained at the notorious Yarl’s Wood centre since September 2016, when the Adults at Risk policy came in, and found that 85 per cent were survivors of domestic violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution or trafficking.
Nearly 90 per cent said their mental health had deteriorated while being detained while about half said they had thought about killing themselves. Two women said they had attempted suicide multiple times.
Home Office policy states that anyone who is vulnerable or “at risk” of harm from detention should not be detained — including survivors of sexual or gender-based violence.
But there is no screening process to identify whether someone is vulnerable.
Although doctors in detention centres are required to complete reports when they have concerns that someone is a survivor of torture, a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in 2015 said that at Yarl’s Wood, some reports were “among the worst that we have seen, providing wholly inadequate protection for some of the most vulnerable detainees.”
One woman from West Africa, who had been forced into prostitution in her home country and had now been kept in detention for six months, said: “I wasn’t really sleeping or eating at all and I was having flashbacks about what had happened to me.
“Sometimes it felt like I was suffocating, as if the walls were closing in.”
The charity said the government must introduce a monitoring system on the policy’s use.
It also wants to see such women identified before being detained and an exclusion on the detention of pregnant women: currently there is a 72-hour time limit.
Founder of Women for Refugee Women Natasha Walter said: “We need to move away from detention and build a fair asylum process in which cases are heard and resolved while refugees are living in the community so that they are able to start rebuilding their lives.”
Further measures called for by the charity include a 28-day time limit on detention and an end to holding people while their asylum claims are in progress.