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Prison Inspectorate raises concerns for worrying decline in safety at Yarl's Wood

THERE is a worrying decline in safety for immigration detainees, including survivors of torture, held in prison-like conditions at Yarl’s Wood, a damning report has found.

A recent inspection by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons at the immigration removal centre holding both men and women near Bedford found that 41 per cent of those held there felt unsafe at times.

There were more detainees and protests since the last inspection in 2017, and frustration was fuelled by cumulatively longer periods of detention without progress on immigration cases.

As of April 2023, 32 people had been held there for over six months, and eight for over a year.

Razor wire and prison-style doors and vented windows had been installed since the last visit, and more men gathered in corridors due to a lack of suitable rooms for socialising.

There was a high level of assessed vulnerability in the centre, including victims of torture, but the Home Office did not always pass this information to staff at the centre, which limited their ability to keep people safe, the report said.

Inspectors found that at least two psychotic detainees, who were not well enough to be detained, had been held in the control and separation unit for extended periods.

Eighty-four per cent of detainees said they had felt depressed while in the centre and 44 per cent said they had felt suicidal.

Lengthy and indefinite detention and the lack of information about immigration case progression were the main causes of distress for many detainees interviewed by inspectors.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said: “This was a concerning inspection.

“Rapid action is needed to make sure that the men and women held in Yarl’s Wood are held in more appropriate conditions and that their immigration cases are processed without delay.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The health and welfare of people in our care is of the utmost importance and we are committed to ensuring that detention and removals are carried out with dignity and respect.

“We welcome the fact that the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons found that Yarl’s Wood is operationally well led, with good relationships between staff and residents and a highly valued welfare team to support those in detention.

“Policies and procedures are in place to safeguard vulnerable people and we remain committed to further improving these.”

Carenza Arnold of Women for Refugee Women told the Star: “We reject the notion that Yarl’s Wood is ‘no longer safe enough’. Detention destroys lives and is inherently harmful – it can never be safe for anyone who is detained.

“We urge the government to end the use of immigration detention entirely.

“It is much more humane and fairer to allow people to resolve their cases in our communities with the support of their loved ones.

“Until they do so, the unsafe conditions, distress and harm outlined in the HM Inspectorate of Prisons inspection will continue, causing great and lasting harm to individuals.”

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