UK & World News
Women Asylum Seekers' Despair Behind Bars
Women asylum seekers who say they have been raped and tortured are being detained in Britain in large numbers every week, a report has revealed.
The report, called Detained, exposes previously unpublished Home Office figures that show 1,867 women were locked up in 2012 alone. The vast majority said they had suffered rape or torture in their home countries, it claimed.
In-depth interviews with 46 women uncover shocking experiences while inside detention.
Over half the women reported suicidal thoughts with one in five saying they had tried to kill themselves. A third said they had been on suicide watch, and claimed male guards had looked at them even while on the toilet or in the shower.
Others said men working in the centres walked in without knocking.
The testimonies include a pregnant woman saying she was held for four months, with others held for up to 11 months.
Most of the women were in Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre.
Miriam - who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo after being kidnapped, tortured and raped by Government soldiers - told Sky News that she could not understand why she was being placed in a "prison".
Male guards let themselves into her room whenever they wanted, she claimed. They were trying to check she was not suicidal, but the experience led to flashbacks of her earlier experiences.
She saw other detainees attempt suicide, as did Agnes, 57, from the Ivory Coast, who was held for three months. She said: "There was so much fear and depression in detention."
Tua, 36, from Cameroon, called it "frightening and intimidating".
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said: "If we cannot provide comfort and safety to those who arrive on our shores having suffered torture, the horrors of war and cruelty of the most extreme kind, we have lost a sense of our own humanity."
Natasha Walter, founder of Women for Refugee Women, which carried out the research, said: "Asylum seekers are typically fleeing severe human rights abuses and are the most vulnerable of all those who come to the UK. Most of the women interviewed for this research had experienced extreme persecution and detention had a negative impact on their mental health."
Richard Fuller, a Conservative MP whose constituency is close to Yarl's Wood, said he believed in a robust immigration system, but said the report highlighted a practice that was unethical and ought to be stamped out.
A Home Office spokesperson said detention was an essential part of effective immigration controls. But he added: "It is vital these are carried out with dignity and respect and we take the welfare of our detainees very seriously.
"We operate a comprehensive complaints system for anyone who feels they have not been treated in accordance with our standards and all complaints are investigated thoroughly."
John Tolland, director at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, run by the company Serco, said: "Serco categorically rejects the allegation that our male staff have ever supervised female residents showering, dressing or on the toilet - or would ever do so - even if these women were on constant supervision because of risk of self harm.
"Our staff work hard to establish and maintain good relationships with all residents, who are vulnerable people in the middle of a distressing and difficult experience, and run an establishment where they feel safe."
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