Sunday, 8 March 2009

My first visit to Yarl‘s Wood

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to join one of the experienced doctors from Medical Justice to see patients and detainees in the deportation and detention center near Bedford, Yarl’s Wood. That facility is relatively newly built, after an uprising broke out inside the previous building, which destroyed the structure due to a fire which was placed by the detainees to their mattresses. Several hunger strikes brought a lot of attention to the situation of mainly refugees and asylum seekers from African countries inside those deportation centers (The Home office calls them removal centers).

Yarl’s Wood is run by a private contractor called SERCO, the slogan of that company is “bringing service to life”. In the last couple of months Medical Justice raised awareness and public interest with the work they are doing in a very professional, compassionate and assertive way. They managed to see more and more detainees on the base of a second independent medical opinion and work together with asylum seekers and former detainees, giving workshops, advocacy and direct medical and legal support. One of the pressing issues is the detention of children and unaccompanied Minors; there are about 2000 children in detention in the UK, which is in itself a violation of British legislation as well as international human rights law. HIV positive and AIDS patients with poor immune status, who receive antiretroviral medication, get deported to the countries of origin or others, although the further treatment is not certain. There are constantly violations of international law happening, like in many different countries in the EU to make it more and more difficult for refugees to enter and stay.

Arriving at Bedford station with a fast train from St Pankras railway station in London after a 37 minute journey, to reach the center either a taxi or a private car is needed. After another 15-20 minutes the compound is in sight and appears from a distance like an ordinary industrial area. The entrance of Yarl’s Wood looks like the entrance of a motel. The visitors welcome reception and the staff entrance next to the court building. Everyone is polite and friendly after checking passport and taking away mobile phones, kindly asked to wait for your accompanying person. Walking behind the friendly nurse with the relevant keys, fences, barbed wire and double locked doors appear. The health center is the place where patients are received and it looks like an ordinary consultation room, with posters on the wall to advice about a regular smear or breast check (cancer screening) or immunization check or one says:” If you like to get a second medical opinion we are happy to assist you to find one at your own cost.” For us the detainees don’t have to pay. The patients are coming ne after the other, when called down by the head nurse, who was extremely friendly (bringing coffee and cookies and stating, well there are quite a lot of lovely people in here, not all are a pain in the a..), well to us.

To make it a bit shorter: we saw 6 women and 2 children (5 and 7). Both of the children were in a dreadful mental situation. The girl was clenching to her mother, the boy was not responding to his mother, closing up, getting angry, being sad, feeling worried about his mother, it was terrible. He is born in the UK and has British citizenship, he should go to school and play football (he is a defender and is fan of Manchester United), but Home office wants to deport his mother and not to be inhuman and cruel the boy with her. They didn´t have a lawyer, so they got one through Medical Justice and hopefully they will be released soon and will be able to stay. It’s the third time in a short period that they got detained after a house raid in early mornings.

Stop detention of children and anyone else, stop deportation!

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