Anjum Nahar outlines how the immigration detention system is detrimental to vulnerable women and explains the These Wall’s Must Fall campaign. CW: Sexual and gender-based violence, mental health.
It’s upsetting to think that a large section of British society still has no idea that the immigration detention system exists in this country. It feels like many left-leaning university students might have seen articles on Yarl’s Wood being shared to their Facebook timelines, or have a friend who’s been to a Yarl’s Wood Demo, but Yarl’s Wood often still feels like an abstract place; it seems that a pervading sense of disconnect and disengagement still blankets conversations on immigration detention. Until recently, I have also felt that there has been a lack of constructive conversation surrounding the issue. Discussing the subject of immigration detention has often left me feeling hopeless and pitiful for the people in detention, and the kinds of discussions I was having were never catalysts for positive change.
Let’s take a moment to address the hard facts of immigration detention and to consider why the detention system needs reforming. At any given time, between 2,000-3,500 people are held in detention centres across the UK. These people are held in prison-like conditions, not because they have committed a crime, but because of complications regarding the paperwork that grants them the right to live in this country. Shockingly, children and the elderly are also held in these centres and the UK is the only country in the world where the amount of time a person spends in detention can be indefinite; even America has a time limit on how long a person may spend in a detention centre. Most detainees are not deported from the country after their stay in the centre and are released back into their communities, but often find it difficult to integrate into society and adjust back into their normal livelihoods. The detention system costs the taxpayers money and many would argue that the only tangible benefit of the detention system is that it reinforces Theresa May’s hostile environment, if you would consider that a benefit at all.
Although everyone who passes through the immigration detention system can be said to undergo some form of suffering, regardless of gender, vulnerable women experience the most hardships whilst passing through the detention system. A recent policy has been introduced to ensure that women who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence should not be held at these centres, but further investigations have found that the implementation of this policy has failed, and that vulnerable women are still being wrongly detained. Unsurprisingly, this has severe consequences for the mental health of women who are often denied the medical attention that they require during their stay in these centres. In February of this year, more than 100 women in Yarl’s Wood decided to go on hunger strike to protest against the inhumane conditions they had been subjected to – highlighting the desperation of their situation. The struggle for reform is ongoing, and although protests have helped to raise awareness amongst the general public, there is still a sense of ‘callous disregard’ amongst politicians.
Now that I have become more engaged in activism, the conversations I am having around immigration detention have taken a more practical turn and I have encountered groups of people that have been mobilised to take direct action against the flawed detention system. At the University of Bristol, a number of political societies on campus have teamed up to work on the These Walls Must Fall Campaign. The campaign is aiming to get the Bristol City Council to pass a motion requiring the council to call on the Government to implement the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into detention. Similar motions have been passed in cities such as Manchester and Brighton, and the hope is that once enough councils have passed the motion then the government will introduce alternatives to detention. The campaign will be launching on the 17th November, at Hamilton House from 4-6pm and the event is open to all. All students are encouraged to sign the These Walls Must Fall petition and to write to their local MPs, encouraging them to support the motion. For those who are interested, Bristol STAR and Bristol University Amnesty International Society will be hosting a letter-writing event at The White Harte on the 21st November, from 4-7pm.
As feminists, it is important that we show solidarity to these women by fighting to end the detention system through direct action and political organising. Immigration detention is a feminist issue because it is feminism’s duty to ensure that no woman is being subject to unjust treatment under a patriarchal government. It has been reported that the top five nationalities of people detained are Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nigerian and Polish, foregrounding immigration detention as an issue that will disproportionately affect women of colour, an already significantly disadvantaged group, and this is something that we should be angry about. I hope that by publishing this article, That’s What She Said readers will feel empowered and mobilised to take action on this issue and will join the fight against the current UK detention system.
Images provided by Right to Remain.