by Chimene Suleyman 

I cannot understand it. The thought process behind taking vulnerable women and detaining them like criminals. Many of the women who have come to Britain to seek asylum have done so with great concerns. These are women who have taken political jobs and stances against countries who now seek to kill them. They are human-rights activists. Women who were faced with jobs as FGM ‘cutters’, who naturally opposed it and have experienced it themselves.

yw_img_2697-2_1_Really, it is irrelevant how severe the circumstances they were escaping from. No one deserves the treatment that the women detained at Yarl’s Wood are receiving. Even criminals are treated within ethical guidelines and a timeframe for how long they are expected to serve. And even that is flawed. Yet Yarl’s Wood is a secretive place. Cameras are banned from inside the premises and journalists are refused entry. More worryingly, the United Nations-appointed member for violence against women was denied any access.

At Yarl’s Wood women may spend years without having their cases reviewed. Sexual abuse is common. In fact, three-quarters of women at the detention centre have said they have been raped. Name-calling is common. Hygiene and health standards are also deep concerns. Women with mental health problems are detained without proper support and care, and self-harming incidents are high.

The accounts are harrowing. The stories are difficult to hear, as descriptions of women wail in groups together long into the night. Some try to take their own lives. It is sinister, and not contained to one corrupt centre. Britain’s relationship and understanding of immigrants has allowed an environment in which such abuse can happen. The comments surrounding and final results of the recent election – one that will harm the lives of disabled people, those on benefits, the young, the old, the NHS – show that our focuses have become entirely self-centred. We have disengaged from socialism and basic human care with little sign of wanting to correct it; drowning immigrants are cockroaches, asylum-seekers are wrongdoers. And for this illnesses and pregnancies will go untreated alongside the not uncommon rhetoric that ‘they are not entitled to it’. How often do we hear this elsewhere in British life?

It is shocking that we value lives like this. That we have created a system by which we can talk away humanity with economics and made-up rules, for really that is all politics and their outcomes are. There is simply no good reason to keep women who have done nothing wrong like criminals – worse than criminals – purely because they are not British. It is racism to the nth degree, the cousin of genocidal thinking. It is a hatred of immigrants, it is a hatred of women, and there is really no other way of framing this.


Immigration, and what it means for British people, has become so hostile it is extending itself to the complaints of UK holiday-makers. We are now in other people’s countries whining about how their immigrants and refugees still continue to disrupt our lives. What will it take to start viewing those from other countries as human again – with the same rights as us regardless of what document they carry or the financial contribution they may or may not make?

It is a deep concern that until we shake these thoughts on immigrants we will continue to legitimise Yarl’s Wood, contributing to the initiation of more centres like it. In the mean time there will be a protest taking place outside Yarl’s Wood on Saturday 6 June, 12.30pm, with the aim of getting it closed. You can go along to show your support or follow #setherfree on Twitter. Send good vibes and well wishes and hope we can return to a place where we do not allow another society that legitimises the treatment of others in such a way.

You can sign the petition to #SetHerFree here.

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Chimene Suleyman is a writer from London of Turkish / Middle Eastern heritage. She writes opinion pieces, contributing to The Independent as well as regularly featured writing for online blog and events organiser Poejazzi. She has represented the UK at the International Biennale, Rome 2011 with spoken word. Her poetry collection “Outside Looking On” published by Influx Press is out now. She collects photos of Canary Wharf. Find her on Twitter: @chimenesuleyman
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2 thoughts on “The Sinister Abuse of Women at Yarl’s Wood

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