I congratulate my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield on securing this vital debate.
Every year, approximately 2,000 women seeking asylum in the UK are detained, many at Yarl’s Wood detention centre near Bedford. The majority of those women have survived traumatic life events such as rape, domestic violence and threats of abuse, and many have been psychologically affected. Being locked up or detained can be particularly distressing and counter-productive, forcing some to relive their traumas.
Some 40% of those women who were interviewed recently admitted that they had self-harmed and 20% admitted to having attempting suicide. In a recent report, the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said:
“Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern.”
The inspectorate found that about half the women who were in detention centres pending an asylum decision felt unsafe. Worryingly, the report detailed that since the previous inspection, the treatment and condition of those held had deteriorated significantly.
One woman said:
“I felt so upset and frightened because I was arrested and locked up and tortured back home. I have scars on my feet and arms where I was beaten by police and guards and so the situation and male guards in Yarl’s Wood made me feel extremely frightened…it feels like being locked up in prison back home.”
Women have alluded to significant breaches of privacy while being held, including allegations of sexual harassment and violations of dignity. Female staffing levels are also considered to be inadequate.
The parliamentary inquiry recommended a mandatory 28-day limit on all immigration detention. Referring to cases involving women, it called for gender-specific rules for detention. It stated that there should be no detention of pregnant women or survivors of rape and sexual abuse. The current Home Office policy stipulates that pregnant women should be detained only in the most exceptional of circumstances, but in 2014, 99 pregnant women were held at Yarl’s Wood alone.