Revealed: Rape victims abused in British detention centres

The controversial Yarl's Wood detention centre, burnt down by detainees in 2002
The controversial Yarl's Wood detention centre, burnt down by detainees in 2002
Adam Bienkov By

Female victims of rape and torture are being subjected to abuse and intimidation in British detention centres, according to a damning new report into the plight of women asylum seekers in the UK.

The report by campaign group Women for Refugee Women (WRW) focuses on the experience of women in the controversial Yarl's Wood detention centre.

It paints a bleak picture of damaged women being driven to self harm and suicide.

One woman who had fled persecution and rape in Cameroon for being a lesbian, described the terror of being detained again in the UK.

"There were three big men and one woman to take me away. They took me to a prison in Stoke-on-Trent and told me that if I resisted arrest they would put me in handcuffs. I don't know why they have to have three big men to take a woman away, but for a woman who has been raped it is very frightening.

"When the big door closed it brought back everything that had happened to me back home when I was in prison. I thought that I was going to be raped. The fear overtook me and I thought that they could do what they liked with me. I started to bang my head against the wall and beg them to let me go."

The woman, referred to as Alice in the report, described how the experience had caused her to self-harm.

"I harmed myself to try and relieve the pain I felt inside. I burnt myself badly on my arm with hot water and saw other women do similar things – using forks to stab themselves and drinking whole bottles of shampoo in an attempt to kill themselves."

One woman, whose asylum claim was successful, said the experience inside Yarl's Wood had stayed with her long after leaving.

"When I left detention, Yarl’s Wood followed me to Manchester," she said.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm in a trance, I feel I hear the footsteps of the officers, I hear the banging of the doors and the sound of their keys.

"Even though I'm out of detention, I'm not really out - I still have those dreams."

Seventy per cent of the women surveyed by WRW said they had been made to feel uncomfortable by male staff, with over half saying they had been abused either verbally or physically.

One in four also said they had been racially abused, with women describing guards as "patronising bullying and uncaring".

Eighty-five per cent of those surveyed were the victims of either torture or rape in their home countries.

This is despite government guidance explicitly stating that torture victims should only be detained under "extraordinary circumstances"

Ninety-three per cent of the women said they had suffered from depression with 61% saying they had even considered killing themselves.

Almost a third of the women were placed on suicide watch while being detained and almost a quarter say they had actually tried to take their own lives.

A Home Office spokesperson defended the government's detention of female asylum seekers, saying it was an "essential part of effective immigration controls.

They added: "It is vital these are carried out with dignity and respect and we take the welfare of our detainees very seriously."

A spokesperson for WRW said the government should end all detention of asylum seekers.

"We believe that detention has no place in the asylum process and that women who seek sanctuary in the UK should not be detained while their cases are being considered.

"Their cases can be heard while they are living in the community at much less cost and with less trauma to the asylum seekers themselves."

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