DIANE ABBOTT was finally allowed into Yarl’s Wood today after a lengthy fight for access and was immediately told about “hellish” conditions at the migrant detention centre by hunger strikers.
Ms Abbott has been trying to gain access to the centre since she was appointed shadow home secretary in October 2016 and was accompanied to the centre by shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti.
While Ms Abbott was allowed into the centre and spoke to detainees, a statement from incarcerated women on the Detained Voices blog alleged at least some were “being prevented from speaking” to her.
Around 120 women were understood on Wednesday to have gone on hunger strike before issuing a list of demands, the Star reported today.
Ms Abbott said she and Ms Chakrabarti were told by detainees that the number of women refusing food was 65.
However a spokesman for Yarl’s Wood contractor Serco, which runs the centre on behalf of the Home Office, said: “There are a number of women who did not take food in the restaurant over the last 48 hours but that does not constitute a hunger strike.
“Furthermore the purchase of food by residents from the shop increased at the same time so we know people were eating. This was fully explained to Diane Abbott and her party.”
The women from Avocet and Dove units, along with a few men on the family wing, are refusing food and are planning further protests.
The detainees’ demands include capping indefinite detentions to 28 days, releasing children, amnesty for people who have lived in Britain for at least 10 years, ending the use of charter flights to deport people without warning and no re-detentions.
A separate statement says that the strike is over the violation of habeas corpus and lack of proper medical attention alongside the locking up of sick and disabled people, torture and rape survivors and minors.
Britain is the only country in the EU that detains people indefinitely for immigration purposes, they added.
The Detained Voices blog has been posting statements from some of the hunger strikers.
One says: “The mental health nurses treat appointments like extensions of the immigration interview … if you’re sick and there’s blood, you have to bring proof of it before they’ll see you.”
Another says: “The diet in detention is awful – most of us are on Omoprozole [a medicine used to prevent stomach ulcers and stomach acid] and iron tablets.
“We weren’t on those when we came in here. There are tablets to counteract tablets to counteract tablets.”
Another recounts an incident in which staff attempted to deport a woman in the middle of the night by locking her in an office.
She said: “We heard screams and everyone came out. We were seeing her screaming, screaming, screaming, and an officer was standing in front of the [unit office] door.
“Eventually, they took some white paper to cover the window in the door.”
The woman is understood to have had a panic attack, was given first aid and was put in a wheelchair to be taken for “further treatment.”
The witness added: “Now we haven’t seen her and we don’t know where she is. We’ll find out tomorrow if they deported her.”
A statement from another woman reveals that some hunger strikers will refuse to work for £1 an hour in the kitchens and gardens from Monday.
She added: “We don’t want to use your gym, we don’t want to go to your library, your salon, your shop ... we want our freedom not your silly limited activities.”
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