Anxiety is running high among women in Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre, Wednesday August 12, 2015 | Photo: S. Dempsey/picture-alliance
Anxiety is running high among women in Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre, Wednesday August 12, 2015 | Photo: S. Dempsey/picture-alliance

In Britain, at least five new detainees have been sent to the Yarl's Wood immigration detention center, despite reports of a case of Covid-19 in the facility. A British charity says all women in the center should be immediately released.

Women for Refugee Women (WRW), a charity that supports women in the Yarl's Wood immigration detention center, was told over 10 days ago by detainees that there was a case of Covid-19 in the facility. The women said they were "panicking" and felt they did not have the means to protect themselves.

Yarl's Wood, in Bedfordshire, is the main facility for women in immigration detention ("immigration removal") in the UK.

The Home Office now says there are no coronavirus cases in Yarl's Wood, the BBC reported on Thursday. However according to The Guardian, the Home Office earlier confirmed the diagnosis.
UK Home Office building in London 2018  Photo picture-allianceYui MokThe government has said it is following health department guidelines. But WRW says the decision to continue to bring new detainees to the Yarl's Wood center is endangering lives. Many of the women detainees have underlying health conditions that make them even more at risk if they become infected with the virus, according to the charity.

“I don’t feel safe. I’ve locked myself away and am not talking to anyone because I have asthma and am afraid for my health," one detainee told the organization. "I just want to get out. This whole thing is just terrifying,” she said.

Women in the center said that there had been a lax attitude to hygiene, with women having to ask staff to remind others to wash hands, and no extra soap or hand sanitizers provided at mealtimes.

"I am so scared that I will die. I am not a young woman and my health problems mean that I am at high risk. I feel so afraid," a detainee told WRW.

The director of Women for Refugee Women, Natasha Walter, says her organization is particularly concerned about the women's mental health. WRW is calling on the government for the women to be released from immigration detention and supported in the community.

"There are actually very few women in Yarl's Wood right now so it's not going to take a lot of resources for this to happen," Walter said on Thursday. "At the present time, everyone should be able to access safe accommodation and support. People should not be left homeless at any time but particularly not in a global pandemic."
Protest at Yarls Wood immigration detention center Bedfordshire UK  Photo P Marshallpicture-allianceHundreds released from immigration detention

In March, the Home Office ordered the release of several hundred people from immigration detention following a legal action that argued that it had failed to protect detainees from the coronavirus outbreak and failed to identify those at risk.

The court rejected a subsequent challenge calling for 736 more people to be freed from immigration detention because they were at greater risk due to health conditions or because they were unable to be returned to their home countries because of international measures against coronavirus.

In an expert report provided as part of the case, a public health expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Richard Coker, warned that prisons and detention centers provided ideal incubation conditions for the rapid spread of coronavirus. His report said about 60% of detainees could be quickly infected if the virus got into the closed facilities.

The Home Office says that the High Court strongly backed its approach and noted that it had taken "sensible, precautionary measures."


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