Ugandan women’s hunger strike continues as spokeswoman Harriet Anyangokolo is confined to secure wing of Yarl’s Wood
For more information contact: Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women’s Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 minicom/voice Fax: 020 7209 4761; 079291 38554
Women inside Yarl’s Wood are available for interview
Ugandan women in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, many of whom are rape survivors, continue their hunger strike protesting against their deportation as well as the conditions in detention. This morning at 7am Harriet Anyangokolo who started the hunger strike and is the spokeswoman for the hunger strikers, was taken to the secure confinement wing of Yarl’s Wood. Today is the 26th day of Ms Anyangokolo’s hunger strike and she is feeling very weak, and suffering from severe chest and joint pains. She was due to be deported last night but her flight was stopped after her case was taken to the High Court.
Ms Anyangokolo has bravely spoken out about the women’s experiences in Yarl’s Wood, including on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour on Friday morning. This is the second time she has been taken from her friends and fellow hunger strikers to the “Kingfisher” secure unit at Yarl’s Wood since then. GSL, the private company which runs the centre, claims this is because she has been “non-compliant and obstructive to staff”. Yesterday Ms Anyangokolo and other women intervened to stop staff taking Charity Mutebwa, another hunger striker who is due to be deported tomorrow. Staff claimed they were moving Ms Mutebwa to another detention centre closer to Heathrow “for her own sake” because she was so weak. The women told staff that it was unnecessary to move Ms Mutebwa, since lawyers were taking steps to stop her flight and that Alistair Burt MP was also intervening in her case. But despite also being told that the Doctor who had seen Ms Mutebwa the previous day was so worried about her condition that she had written immediately to the authorities to say she should not travel at all, the staff continued to say she must go. Ms Mutebwa refused to co-operate and the other women refused to leave her and return to the rooms as ordered. But early this morning she too was also taken to the secure unit. Other women were locked into their rooms and heard Ms Mutebwa screaming but could not help her. One woman did see what was happening and reports that male guards forced Ms Mutebwa to the floor in a head lock, handcuffed her and then she was dragged away in extreme distress and obvious pain. Now she is locked alone in a room on the isolation unit and Ms Anyangokolo has not been allowed to see her.
GSL claim their decision to isolate Ms Anyangokolo and Ms Mutebwa is for “operational safety” reasons but the measures they are taking are provocative and dangerous: denying vulnerable and suicidal women (both rape survivors) the only support and care they have in Yarl’s Wood – their friends and fellow hungerstrikers. Ms Anyangokolo described on Woman’s Hour how she tried to take her own life after a male guard entered her room late at night when she was in her underwear and how this happened again when she was naked, when the guard warned her not to tell anyone. It was only because another woman found Ms Anyangokolo that her attempted suicide was prevented.
Interviewed also on the programme were Sian Evans of Women Against Rape which has been working to stop the deportation, and Alistair Burt MP who recently visited the hunger strikers in Yarl’s Wood and who has intervened in both Ms Anyangokolo and Ms Mutebwa’s cases. Sian Evans made clear that this sexist and racist treatment of the women in detention is widespread and can only lead to rape. Since Legal Action for Women issued an asylum rights Self-Help Guide*, WAR has been inundated with calls from women in detention. Vulnerable women are being forced onto planes with the most appalling brutality and regardless of the validity of their claim. Recently a woman was deported to Nigeria in handcuffs and with her feet tied – she had a good case but despite calls to 17 legal firms, no lawyer could be found to represent her. Alistair Burt agreed that the situation was extremely serious, that good lawyers were hard to find, that many lawyers took advantage, charging women while doing no work so that women were deported without their cases having been heard.
Home Office guidelines say victims of torture should only be detained in extreme circumstances but it is clear that this is not what is happening. Desperate and traumatized women are routinely imprisoned and are being driven to breaking point at Yarl’s Wood. Ms Anyangokolo is being punished because she has spoken out so effectively against these injustices against herself and the other women there.
* For Asylum Seekers and their Supporters – A Self-Help Guide Against Detention and Deportation is available from LAW