Yarl's Wood detainees lives placed in 'jeopardy' due to coronavirus

Women are continuing to be detained at a UK immigration removal centre, despite a confirmed case of coronavirus.

According to the charity Women for Refugee Women (WRW), at least five new detainees have been sent to Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire since last Sunday where a woman tested positive.

The charity added that the measures being put in place are confusing and poorly implemented.

Natasha Walter, WRW director said that the women are only supposed to be locked up prior to deportation but this cannot take place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Walter, who has said that the detention is pointless and cruel even in normal circumstances, has asked the Home Office to clarify why women are still being locked up despite the current epidemic.

“Most of these women have experienced human rights abuses and find the confines of being detained traumatic.”

“From what women are telling us, there is panic, anxiety and even basic precautions have not been taken at the centre to prevent and deal with a COVID-19 infection."

It has been reported that women were given masks and gloves and told to wash their hands every half an hour – but that they were only given one pair of gloves and one mask each, with no information about how to use them effectively given.

Walter added that the women have not received any information, nor have they been educated on the virus.

“There is very poor hygiene practice. They don't know what has happened to the woman who had the virus and women are still being brought in.

"It all appears to be quite chaotic and we want transparency from the Home Office, particularly at a time where it is impossible for any of the women to be removed,” she said. The Home Office said: “The high court has ruled that we are taking sensible precautionary measures.We are following Public health England guidance and have moved all women in Yarl's Wood to single rooms."

They added: “Existing, well-developed procedures are in place to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases and removal centres are prepared if cases are identified. Plans are in place for dealing with staff absences if staff working in removal centres need to self-isolate.

Toufique Hossain, Public law director at Duncan Lewis Solicitors said that the detention of the women is irrational and that they should not be detaining anyone at this time, especially those who are vulnerable.

He said: “The Home Office can only detain individuals in certain circumstances where they can guarantee removal or deportation within a reasonable period of time.”

Mr Hossain said that the Home Office’s previous conduct in relation to how they approach victims of torture, survivors of sexual violence and people who should not be detained but continue to be detained has not been exemplary.

He added that while the Home Office say they have procedures and policies in place to protect vulnerable people, they are most likely to fail.

Ms Walter has called on the government to release the women back into the community to resolve their problems because they are not foreign national offenders.

“These women are not a danger to the public, they are in danger themselves. We are in this together and cannot put the vulnerable in such a position when they are already at risk.”

Yarl’s Wood detention centre Yarl’s Wood IRC is a fully contained residential centre housing approximately 300 adult women and adult family groups awaiting immigration clearance.

Mid March, an unnamed woman's diagnosis was confirmed by the Home Office. A spokesperson said no other staff or detainees in the women's detention facility had tested positive.

Campaigners said some of the women had underlying health conditions that would make them even more at risk if infected, and had urged the Home Office to stop pretending that it could operate a deportation system in a global pandemic.

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