Yarls Wood Detention Centre - Burnt to the Ground

nicked shamelessly from indymedia.uk

18.Feb.02 - The UK's flagship detention centre, Yarls Wood, still burning, lies in ruins this morning after a major disturbance by detainees. Which began yesterday afternoon and continued for several hours. It is not known how the fire started, though detainees are adamant, that the fire started in the reception centre, which they did not have access to.
Attempts by security staff at the centre to remove a elderly sick detainee in handcuffs to hospital started the protest. The detainee had been ill for the last three days and other detainees felt she should have been moved to hospital immediately.
At one stage an estimated 200 detainees climbed onto one of the roof of one of the buildings This is just the latest of a series of continuing protests at Yarlswood Detention Centre since it opened on Monday 19th November 2001. Detainees at Europe's largest detention centre - have been suffering punitive conditions since the camp opened.
On Monday the 10th December 2001, just 3 weeks after it opened a protest against conditions at the centre, Five Roma began refusing to eat, the hunger strike soon broadened into a opposition to detention itself. Since the 10th of December there has always been people on hunger strike. One detainee from Eastern Europe went with out food for 34 days.
On January 18th 2002 nearly all the detainees, went on hunger strike for 24 hours, one of the main complaints on this day, was the handcuffing of detainees being transported to hospital.
Emma Ginn, from the Campaign to 'Stop Arbitrary Detentions at Yarl's Wood,' said: "since the camp opened there have been daily complaints about the delays in access to medical treatment and delays in moving people to hospital. There have also been complaints about, limited association times - bad food - delay of incoming phone calls - use of handcuffs when detainees are taken to court, the dentists, or to hospital - unequal distribution of a weekly £2 telephone card to all detainees - neither detainees or visitor are allowed pen and paper during visits - childrens' access to education very poor."

NCADC comment:

Arbitrary detention, dispersal, vouchers, deportations, self harm, suicides, racist attacks, snatch squads, are all part of the daily life of asylum seekers in the UK. The blame for what happened at Yarls Wood lies squarely with the Government. Their latest Draconian proposals for asylum seekers, unveiled in "Secure Borders, Safe Haven", will lead to more incidents like these. NCADC demands the immediate closure of all detention centres, a end to dispersal, scrapping the vouchers today, (not next autumn). To be blunt only the complete repeal of all the UK's racist Immigration laws, will prevent a repeat of the events at Yarls Wood.

Joint statement by Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention at Yarls Wood and the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers

Yarlís Wood Blaze Highlights Inhumanity of Detention Regime

Emma Ginn, a local Bedford resident and founder of the Campaign Against Arbitary Detention at Yarls Wood has responded to the fire, which has caused an estimated £35 million in damage to the Yarlís Wood detention centre. "Whatever the exact details of last nightís events, the fire and the official response to it have realised the worst fears of those of us who have campaigned against the Yarl's Wood complex."

In a joint statement with the national Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers (CDAS), Emma Ginn added that "There was a tragic inevitability to the fire, but above all the Yarl's Wood events spell out how fundamentally wrong the whole policy of arbitrary detention has been." The secretary of CDAS, George Binette, said "This massive blaze comes at a time when the Home Secretary is seeking to push through Parliament a major extension of the detention regime. This will more than double the number of asylum applicants held in facilities like Yarl's Wood to some 4,000."

George Binette added that "a growing section of the refugee population has been 'criminalised'. The vast majority of detainees have never been charged with, much less convicted of any crime, and yet they can now be held indefinitely. There have been numerous cases of people being held for more than nine months.'

Campaigners have been fighting for nearly a decade against the use of arbitrary detention, whether in prisons or purpose-built centres, of people whose only 'crime' has been to seek refugee status in the UK. Goerge Binette said that, 'The multinational security firm, Group 4, has operated the Yarl's Wood facility under contract to the Home Office, despite its record at the Campsfield centre near Oxford. In 1997 an attempt to maliciously prosecute detainees on a riot charge spectacularly collapsed and it was found that Group 4 employees had actually caused the material damage. Ironically, the Home Secretary had indicated on 7 February that the Campsfield facility would soon close.

Emma Ginn said, "The aftermath of last nights fire has really brought home the contempt with which these people [the detainees] have been treated. The authorities have been far more concerned with how many asylum seekers might have 'escaped', rather than with the possibility of fatalities or serious injuries among the detainees. There was no helpline set up for the families and friends of detainees. Partially clothed women and children, including a two month old baby, were left to stand outside in sub zero temperatures. We already knew that some of these detainees were in need of medical treatment.

We now know from the Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service that, despite its recommendations, there were no sprinklers in a complex with 900 plus beds, despite the fact that it supposedly cost £100 million.

The Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention at Yarls Wood and CDAS are calling for a full public enquiry into the events at Yarlís Wood, but in the meantime will be redoubling their efforts to highlight the plight of asylum detainees and push for an end to the detention regime in general.