WOMEN on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, in Bedford, in protest at its “inhumane conditions” have been threatened with accelerated deportation if they continue their protest.
The Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, confirmed, in response to a series of urgent questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, that several women on hunger strike at the detention centre had been handed letters warning them that their actions could result in an expedited deportation.
Ms Nokes said that the letters were part of official Home Office guidance. “A letter will only be handed to people after an extensive welfare interview, which happens with a medical professional, and is used to explain to individuals the very real risk that they are putting themselves at by refusing food and fluid.”
She continued: “Nobody wants detainees to be at any risk, but it is important that they should not regard this as a route to preventing their removal from this country.”
The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, who visited Yarl’s Wood inmates last month after hearing of their protest, said that it sounded “like punitive deportations for women who have dared to go on hunger strike”.
The subsequent attempted deportation of two hunger-strikers at the weekend, Florence Kgari and her daughter, Opelo, was halted only after personal intervention from Ms Nokes and pressure from Miss Kgari’s friends and family, including the Senior Pastor of Swan Bank Methodist Church, Stoke-On-Trent, the Revd Ashley Cooper.
In a message on the church’s Facebook page, he said that Miss Kgari had been a member of the church since 2010. “We recognise that immigration is an important part of our society, however, we also feel that it is important that a young girl and her story is heard in the midst of this.
“Please join me in praying for Opelo and her mother in this difficult time.”
Ms Nokes refused to comment on individual cases or her own involvement, although she acknowledged that she had spoken to Miss Kgari’s MP, Ruth Smeeth, over the weekend, about the case.
Hundreds of people were due to take part in a “Freedom Fast” yesterday in solidarity with inmates at Yarl’s Wood. The fast was organised to coincide with International Women’s Day.
The group behind the fast, Freedom Fast YW, said: “We feel it is our responsibility to call the Home Office out, and take action with our bodies, too; it is outrageous that a century after some women got the vote, elected governments can still openly enforce these inhumane and racist measures.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the welfare of all those in our Immigration Removal Centres very seriously, and any detainees who choose to refuse food and/or fluid are closely monitored by on-site healthcare professionals.
“It is our duty to make sure detainees are informed about how their actions may jeopardise their health, but also to make clear that they will not prevent their case being progressed.”