Haringey refugee claims: ‘Yarl’s Wood advises pregnant women to have abortions’
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It has been 13 years since Elsie* fled Nigeria, where she was imprisoned, tortured and raped because she was caught kissing her girlfriend. If she goes back, the 40-year-old, who is bisexual, says she will be killed.
Since then, Elsie has made the UK, and Haringey, her home.
But her 2014 application for asylum was refused by the Home Office, and for four months between May and August last year, she was detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire. Hoping to find sanctuary here, she says that instead, she was made to feel like she was “in a nightmare” while inside Yarl’s Wood. “I still have flashbacks.
“I have memory loss. I’m paranoid,” Elsie told the Ham&High.
“I lost all my self-esteem. When I got out, I was living in fear. I thought they would come for me again, if I heard keys at the door.”
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Addressing a Labour Party meeting in Muswell Hill last week, she shocked the 300 people gathered in the hall of Fortismere School with a series of scathing claims about the treatment of detainees at the centre, where the majority of its 400 or so inmates are women.
Saying her detention left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, she claimed every woman has their urine tested when they first arrive at the centre, and if they are found to be pregnant, they are advised to have an abortion.
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Describing her fellow detainees as her sisters, she said one woman fell so ill that she could no longer stand up unsupported, but claimed staff at the centre refused to send for help. In the end, she said the detainees called for an ambulance, but it was turned away at the gate, she told the meeting. “This woman was dying,” she said. “It is traumatising there. Every woman who has been in Yarl’s Wood has had this experience. I don’t like to talk about it, but I will talk about it, because of the way women are treated. We are separated from family, from friends, and we are all alone.”
Elsie, who is supported by charity Women for Refugee Women (WRW), is appealing her rejected asylum application.
A spokesman for G4S, which runs the centre’s healthcare services, said: “These claims are both false and offensive.
“On average 200 women per month arrive at Yarl’s Wood, and in the last month we issued just ten pregnancy tests, all of which were following requests from detainees.
“We work in partnership with Bedford NHS Hospital midwifery unit should any detainee require care during the course of a pregnancy at the centre, in accordance with NHS guidelines.”
A spokesman for Serco, which runs Yarl’s Wood, said it commissioned an independent investigation into the culture at Yarl’s Wood and how it impacts on the welfare of residents. They point out that the report did not find evidence of an abusive culture, or inappropriate behaviour by staff members.
Rupert Soames, chief executive of Serco, said: “The recommendations of the investigation will enable us to deliver a number of operational improvements, and we are already implementing many of them. “Critically, her review repeats the finding of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons that there is not an abusive culture at Yarl’s Wood, and that the majority of the staff are sympathetic to the concerns and needs of residents and deal with them in a caring and supportive manner, often in very challenging circumstances.”
The spokesman also denied that anyone from the company ever gave pregnancy tests or advised women to have abortions, and pointed out that no one from Serco was party to the health screeing process at Yarl’s Wood.
A spokeswoman from WRW said: “We and others, including HMIP, Medical Justice, and Stephen Shaw, have consistently raised concerns about the quality of healthcare on offer at Yarl’s Wood.
“However we have no evidence that staff at Yarls Wood would carry out pregnancy tests unless requested or would advise women to have
* Elsie is not her real name.