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One Clear Action Our Government Can Take To End Violence Against Women: Closing Yarl's Wood

25/11/2016 11:00
NurPhoto via Getty Images

This month the fight to end violence against women was dealt a great set back as a misogynist was elected president of the US. No girl should have to grow up in a world where the most powerful man thinks groping and objectifying women is acceptable - attitudes which are clearly linked to violence against women. Today, as people across the globe will come together for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, there is one very clear action our Government can take to show it is serious about rejecting Trump's attitudes to women - closing Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre.

In Bedfordshire, near the village of Milton Ernest, women waiting to see if they will be granted asylum in the UK are locked up in Yarl's Wood Immigration Detention Centre. The mirrored windows of the centre have become a familiar sight over the last couple of years, pictured in newspapers as detainees wave arms and homemade flags through the two inch openings in the windows - gestures of gratitude and support for campaigners protesting outside the centre for its closure. Distressingly, women have also hung messages scrawled on bed sheets from their windows, alleging sexual impropriety from officers in the centre. Last month, three of Yarl's Wood's former officers stood trial for sexual misconduct including the rape of one detainee in 2012.

Yarl's Wood has been plagued by accusations of sexual abuse, rape and violence against the women it should be caring for. Women who, very often, are fleeing those very things. Indeed, a 2014 report by the charity Women for Refugee Women found that 72% of the women they spoke to who had been detained in Yarl's Wood had previously experienced sexual assault. They came to Britain in search of refuge and have been met with abuse - that is unacceptable. In the Green Party we disagree with all detention of asylum seekers, let alone in an institution so compromised as to be deigned 'a place of national concern' by HM Inspectorate of Prisons last year. We are calling for the immediate closure of Yarl's Wood, and this week Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, has requested a visit to the centre to meet the women who are detained there.

This is something I have done every other week for a year, and as a volunteer with Yarl's Wood Befrienders I have had the privilege of getting to know seven of the women detained in the centre. Of these women only one was deported. Six of them were, thankfully, released and this begs the question why they were ever detained in the first place. In that time I have seen a woman who had been detained for three years, with a seven-year-old child outside. I have seen a three-year-old being stopped from running to her detained mother's arms on a visit by officers who insisted the mother must be fingerprinted first. Why are we punishing children for a crime that hasn't been committed by anyone?

The last woman I visited was from Ghana. She phoned me earlier this week to tell me she had been released after four months in Yarl's Wood. During that time she had deteriorated both physically and mentally.

The women in Yarl's Wood are citizens of the world - just like me, just like you. They deserve a life of freedom and hope. Women and girls across the world should be able to live safe from the fear and threat of hatred and violence. In the words of the UN: "Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential." And it starts at home.

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