Why Are The Home Office Refusing To Answer Questions About Yarl’s Wood?

Last year, the chief prisons inspector called it 'a place of national concern' and the Home Office won't disclose information about it - what goes on at Yarl's Wood should be a national scandal. So why isn't it?

Why Are The Home Office Refusing To Answer Questions About Yarl's Wood?

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

The controversial detention centre Yarl’s Wood is once again facing heavy criticism. It is supposed to be an 'immigration removal centre', housing detainees due to be deported imminently. In reality, as what can only be described as a damning reported conducted last year by the Chief inspector of Prisons found, three-quarters of those detained at the facility in Bedfordshire are eventually released.

Britain is the only EU member state with no time limit on the time that asylum seekers can be detained – they can, in effect, be legally held indefinitely without decision. The Debrief visited Yarl’s Wood back in March and spoke to some of the women being held there. We heard stories of women being handcuffed for medical visits, bullying and anecdotal stories of alleged sexual abuses. One of the women we met with had been detained at the centre for 18 months, despite being under the impression she was due to be deported she was abruptly released in April on the order of a judge.

Campaign groups, like Women for Refugee Women, have long been working to highlight the problems at Yarl’s Wood – from the detention of pregnant women and handcuffing of detainees to the impact of indefinite detention on a person’s mental health. The Home Office has refused to reveal the number of pregnant women in detention despite the campaign group’s repeated requests.

Today The Independent are reporting that it’s not just the number of pregnant women being held at the centre that the Home Office won’t disclose. The Independent reports that they are also refusing to release data on how many Yarl’s Wood detainees have been sexually assaulted or raped at the facility.

Why won't the Home Office answer requests for information about Yarl's Wood? Following The Independent's Freedom of Information requestabout sexual violence against detainees in March, the Home Office have responded by saying that such information cannot be made public in case it harms the ‘commercial interests’ of the private companies that are involved with running the centre.

While all government departments are required to disclose information that is in the public interest they can invoke Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act and refuse to answer a request if the information being requests is considered to ‘prejudice the commercial interests of any persons.’ This is the same response that Women for Refugee Women received when they submitted a request about the number of pregnant women in detention earlier this year.

As things stand Yarl’s Wood is operated by a private company, Serco, on behalf of the Home Office. In the last year several allegations of serious sexual assault and abuse have been made against the centre’s staff.

Nick Hardwick, former Chief Prisons Inspector, called Yarl’s Wood a ‘place of national concern’ following his inspection and report last year. Indeed, report after report has shown that Yarl’s Wood is failing the women it holds, not meeting the needs of vulnerable women and not in step with the actions other countries take when it comes to asylum seekers and, yet, nothing changes.

You might also be interested in:

How Was This Woman Locked Up In Yarl's Wood For 18 Months For No Reason?

What Goes On At Yarl's Wood Should Be A National Scandal - So Why Isn't It?

'I Teach Young Male Refugees In Germany, And The Headlines Don't Tell The Whole Story'

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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