PRESS RELEASE: MFJ report on the treatment of cross Channel refugees in repurposed Yarl’s Wood highlights lack of access to legal advice and failure to identify victims of trafficking and torture

First insight into new regime in Yarl’s Wood detention centre since its conversion into a short term holding facility for cross channel refugees. Report highlights lack of access to legal advice and failure to identify victims of trafficking and torture.

Since August 2020 there have been no more women detained in Yarl’s Wood and the Home Office confirmed that its small short term holding facility was expanded to process cross channel refugees[1].

The report we release today is the first public insight into the new regime and is the result of four weeks of discussions with 20 refugees who were detained in Yarl’s Wood during September 2020.  

Over half of those we spoke to had been victims of torture or trafficking; many had been enslaved in Libya and subject to brutal torture, forced labour and rape. They spent 5-7 days in Yarl’s Wood[2].

During this time, no one was provided with access to a solicitor; the Detention Duty Advice Scheme (DDAS) was not functioning. Some were given a list of numbers after several days but lack of phone credit and language difficulties meant it was impossible for them to secure representation.

People are moved to other accommodation with no representation, no support, and in many cases with no phones. They are dispersed to areas where charities are overstretched and where legal aid immigration solicitors either have no capacity or are few and far between. Language difficulties and lack of phone or phone credit makes it impossible for many to find the legal advice, medical help and support they need.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Home Office have been vocally critical of ‘last minute legal claims’ which ‘frustrate’ removals; this report reveals the truth, that people are denied legal advice at an early stage and victims of trafficking are not being identified. For these refugees a ‘last minute claim,’ when they are taken to Brook House and given notice of a flight, is the only way to stop what would be an unlawful removal.

“The UK’s stated commitment to Human Rights is being trampled on by Priti Patel, the UK Home Office and this government. They have designed a Dover to Deportation pipeline, at every stage frustrating refugees’ ability to get the legal advice, care and support they need. Yarl’s Wood is but one link in that pipeline, but it is a crucial one. Had those asylum seekers been able to access legal representation at the earliest opportunity they would not have been subject to the further torture of detention and threat of removal, which has led to so many suicide attempts in Brook House[3]. Karen Doyle (MFJ National Organiser)

Victims of trafficking and torture, people with families here, people with serious health conditions and mental health difficulties are being taken from their accommodation and thrown into Brook House IRC for removal on charter flights with just five days notice[4]. When lawyers take on these cases at short notice and help their clients to access the protections available to them in law they are branded as ‘lefty lawyers’, akin to traffickers, and vilified simply for doing their job.

“This government is pursuing a relentless and dishonest campaign to vilify refugees and those who support and represent them. It has an incited an epidemic of race hatred and attacks, like the recent attempt to murder an immigration lawyer[5] and fascists targeting places where refugees are being housed. We will fight together with refugees and immigrants to end the super-charged Hostile Environment of Boris Johnson and Priti Patel. Antonia Bright (MFJ Chair)

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[1] BBC News (Look East) Report 18/08/2020: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-53810521

[2] 7 days is the maximum someone can be detained in a Short Term Holding Facility

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/aug/12/asylum-seeker-removal-flight-go-ahead-despite-last-minute-court-action

[4] https://corporatewatch.org/cast-away-the-uks-rushed-charter-flights-to-deport-channel-crossers/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/oct/10/lawyers-claim-knife-attack-at-law-firm-was-inspired-by-priti-patels-rhetoric