"We will not eat till we are free." Detainees say conditions at Yarl's Wood are inhumane. Photo | Help Refugees
"We will not eat till we are free." Detainees say conditions at Yarl's Wood are inhumane. Photo | Help Refugees

One hundred and twenty women at the Yarl's Wood detention center for foreigners in the United Kingdom are on a hunger strike to protest the "inhumane" conditions at the center and to call for respect for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

Yarl's Wood detention center, one of the United Kingdom's detention and expulsion centers for foreigners, has become the site of a hunger strike by 120 women detained there. "This is the only option we are left with to express how we feel. We will not eat till we are free," one of the protesters said. The women said they are protesting against "inhumane conditions" at the center where they are being detained.

Victims of torture among detainees 

The NGO Help Refugees said Yarl's Wood holds about 400 people, mainly women, for "administrative purposes" related to their immigration status. "These women are not criminals, and yet they are held - indefinitely - in an institution that is, for all intents and purposes, a prison," the organization said. "Many of the detained are survivors of torture and sexual or gender-based violence, in contravention of the country's Home Office's own 'adults at risk' policy. A 2017 report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found that 'increasing numbers of women were being detained there despite professional evidence that they are victims of torture, rape and trafficking'".

Protest to call for respect of rights

Help Refugees said a large number of women detained within Yarl's Wood are asylum seekers, and therefore lack the right to work in the UK. It said they can work inside the center for one pound per hour, which the women often use to pay for phone credit or sanitary products from the shop inside the center. Detainees in the UK are exempt from minimum wage legislation.  

The women at the center sent a list of their demands to the Home Office, including an end to indefinite detention, respecting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, blocking deportations, and giving protection to vulnerable categories. The detainees said they will continue the hunger strike until they receive a response from the authorities.


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