More failings at Yarl's Wood immigration centre
On 2nd March 2015 Channel 4 released an investigation into the immigration detention and removal centre Yarl's Wood. The result of the investigation found shocking levels of contempt for detainees by the guards along with high levels of self-harm among detainees. It led to two members of staff being suspended pending further enquiries into their conduct and an announcement by the company in charge of the centre that an independent review would be taken to assess the findings by Channel 4.
Yarl's Wood is run by SERCO – a company chosen by the UK Home Office due to its “quality and cost” – and has roughly around 400 detainees, a vast majority of the detainees are women. The centre deals with people who have claimed asylum and are waiting for a decision by the Home Office. The Home Office was keen to point out that Yarl's Wood was not a prison.
Channel 4 examined the controversial detention of pregnant women, self-harm and the attitude of guards towards women.
The government had stated that there was no specific problem at Yarl's Wood with the Home Office Minister Lord Bates telling parliament “there had been no serious attempts of self-harm at Yarls Wood in the last two years.” But information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Channel 4 found that incidents of self-harm requiring medical treatment had risen from just 1 in 2011 to 74 in 2013.
Some of the more shocking incidences have never been disclosed. One woman from China had been detained for over two years. She jumped down a stairwell breaking her neck and ended up in a wheelchair. SERCO said it took incidences of self-harm very seriously but the stairwell which several women had jumped down still had no nets or barriers despite SERCO stating that thorough reviews had been taken to prevent the women from further self-harm.
There was a health care unit which had been outsourced to G4S. However, former detainees told stories of how doctors treated the patients with contempt. One pregnant woman – who had lost her baby – was returned to Yarl's Wood and was told by hospital staff to seek further medical advice if the pain got worse or bleeding increased due to the high risk of infection. Following the instructions she arrived at the medical centre. Highly distressed she demanded to go to the hospital. The medical centre made an appointment for the woman to see a doctor and was told to wait her turn before she was reprimanded for trying to call an ambulance herself. It took three hours before an ambulance was called. G4S insisted she received an excellent standard of medical care.
SERCO claimed that guards were only appointed if they had the right attitude. However recordings of the guards at the centre revealed them stating “They're all animals. They're caged animals”. These were not isolated incidences. At the Kingfisher segregation unit, Channel 4 found some of the guards' most aggressive and offensive language being used. SERCO stated that it worked hard to ensure the highest standard of conduct and there was no evidence to suggest that it was a wider or epidemic problem.
Allegations of male guards walking into female detainees rooms and seeing them naked or showering had reappeared again at the beginning of the year. As a result of the complaint SERCO said swift action had been taken and the individual in question had been suspended pending further disciplinary action.
In a letter sent to Channel 4 by the Home Office stated:
"The dignity and welfare of all those in our care is of the utmost importance. We have made clear to SERCO and our other contractors that we expect them to conduct thorough and immediate investigations into all matters raised by this programme, and we will not hesitate to take whatever action we think appropriate in response."
SERCO stated it had appointed former barrister Kate Lampard to carry out an independent review of its work.
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