The 8th March is International Women’s Day. To celebrate this TMP (The Multicultural Progressive) is putting a spotlight on Womens’ rights and liberation, throughout this week. As part of this, TMP has commissioned a special report into the state of women in the UK and internationally.
The London based Black Women’s Rape Action Project has produced this report exclusively for TMPOnline.
Since 5 February, women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (Bedfordshire) have been on hunger strike. They are protesting indefinite detention, lack of medical care and legal representation, and inadequate time and help with their legal claim. On top of this, they have suffered racist abuse and other violence from private agency staff. Many are mothers suffering separation from children, and most are survivors of rape and other torture. Their detention is contrary both to international law and Home Office regulations.
On day four of the strike, guards with riot shields ‘kettled’ the women in an airless hallway without access to water or toilets. Others were locked outside in freezing conditions for a sustained period of time. Four women, isolated from the others, were transferred to prison. None of the women have been charged with committing any crime.
Despite efforts from the authorities to divide them, at the start 84 women from many countries came together to organise the hunger strike. Most of the detained women are from China, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Vietnam.
Last week John McDonnell MP tabled a parliamentary motion for an immediate independent investigation and a “moratorium on all removals pending the results of that investigation”.
Embarrassed Home Office officials wrote to all MPs denying that women were refusing food – they were getting food from visitors, they said. Women furiously pointed out that visitors are banned from bringing in food.
Other slurs were answered by the All African Women’s Group and Black Women’s Rape Action Project, based in Kentish Town ’s Crossroads Women’s Centre. Teams of volunteers continue to provide round-the-clock support to hunger strikers, providing lawyers’ visits media and contacts (publicity is a protection against abuse). Sometimes the groups take on cases and stop removals themselves.
Cristel A miss of Black Women’s Rape Action Project said
“We are in daily contact with hunger strikers. Claims that women are treated with ‘dignity and respect’ mean nothing in the face of overwhelming evidence of appalling conditions and abuse. The case for mothers, rape survivors and other vulnerable women to be released grows stronger every day. ”
Stella Mpaka from the All African Women’s Group commented:
“Either children suffer alongside their mothers in detention or they suffer the pain of separation. Ending the detention of children has to mean ending the detention of families. We know from the many acts of kindness, understanding and compassion from the public that there is widespread though hidden support for us. ”
Mothers will be taking their own action in Yarl’s Wood during the Mothers March for Recognition and Support for the Vital Work of Mothering, Sat 13 March, 2pm.
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