Dame Joan Bakewell supports change in UK asylum rules

Broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell has thrown her weight behind plans to change the rules regarding the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK.

The Primrose Hill journalist and writer spoke at the House of Lords at the launch of a Highgate charity’s report about the experiences of women denied asylum in the UK who were detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Centre in Bedfordshire.

Dame Joan said on Tuesday (May 29): “All of us now can chip in and the ripples move.

“The next thing is to get this [report] on the desk of the immigration minister. He will read this and he will have to notice this and things move on.

“Having come into the House of Lords I need to know what use I can be to people. What can I do? We need to get people to know more.”

The report details how “a culture of disbelief” of women fleeing rape and torture in their home countries means many women are wrongly refused asylum and will be deported.

It says 97 per cent of women questioned who were refused asylum, and detained or deported, said they were depressed and some 67 per cent had contemplated suicide.

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The report was commissioned by Women for Refugee Women, a charity founded by Highgate resident and author Natasha Walter.

Unfair treatment of asylum seekers in detention centres has also been the subject of campaigns from the Kentish Town-based All African Women’s Group at the Crossroads Centre in Kentish Town.

The launch of the report from Women For Refugee Women saw other local supporters, including Highgate actress Juliet Stevenson, give their backing to the campaign.

The BAFTA nominated actress said: “I feel very, very strongly about it because when I first went to Yarl’s Wood detention centre and I saw women and children being detained, I was so shocked. It’s hidden Britain.

“It is a part of this country that very few people know about and I feel if they did know how people in the asylum system are treated then they would want to do something about it.”

Dame Joan is hoping to affect changes to the system, but acknowledges it may take time.

“When I was younger I was impatient but I have learned that with politics in Britain everything is incremental,” she said. “You just make a little change here and a little change there and then stop it going back.”

Charity founder Ms Walter said: “We need to make a difference politically. We want to genuinely drive through change in the Home Office and the UK Border Agency so that these experiences are consigned to history.”