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Women for Refugee Women says vulnerable women are being detained in breach of Home Office policy

Date of Publication: 
1 November 2017
Summary: 

Report finds survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in detention despite new Adults at Risk policy

Women for Refugee Women says vulnerable women are being detained in breach of Home Office policy

01 November 2017
EIN

In a new report published today, Women for Refugee Women has found that women who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence are routinely being detained for immigration purposes in breach of the Home Office's own policy.

The 36-page report We are still here: The continued detention of women seeking asylum in Yarl's Wood can be read here.

As the report notes, the Government introduced a new "Adults at Risk" detention policy in September 2016, which says that people who are vulnerable or particularly "at risk" of harm from detention, including survivors of sexual or gender-based violence, should not normally be detained.

Yet Women for Refugee Women says that from May to September 2017 it spoke to 22 women asylum seekers who said they were survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence and who had been detained at the Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre.

Natasha Walter, founder of Women for Refugee Women, told the Guardian that the findings were "hugely disappointing".

"Women who have already survived violence and abuse are still being locked up in immigration detention. Detention is traumatic for individual women, and it is also unnecessary, expensive and inefficient," she said.

The report key findings are as follows:

  • Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are routinely being detained: 22 of the 26 women (85%) Women for Refugee Women spoke to, who had claimed asylum and been detained since the Adults at Risk approach came in, said they were survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence, including domestic violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced prostitution/trafficking.
  • Women who are already vulnerable as a result of sexual and gender-based violence are becoming even more vulnerable in detention: All of the women Women for Refugee Women spoke to said they were depressed in detention, and 23 of the 26 women (88%) said their mental health had deteriorated while they were detained. Twelve – almost half – had thought about killing themselves in detention, and two women said they had attempted suicide, both on more than one occasion.
  • Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are being detained for significant periods of time: The lengths of detention for the women Women for Refugee Women spoke to ranged from three days to just under eight months. The vast majority, 23 out of 26, were in detention for a month or more. Nineteen women were in detention for three months or more.
  • Pregnant women are still being detained unnecessarily: Figures Women for Refugee Women have obtained indicate that, under the 72-hour time limit, the number of pregnant women detained has fallen noticeably. But the majority of these women are still being released back into the community to continue with their cases, as was happening before the time limit was introduced: fewer than 20% of pregnant women who are detained are removed from the UK.

The report makes a number of recommends, including that the Home Office should immediately implement a proactive screening process to ensure that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are identified before detention, so that the Adults at Risk policy's clear presumption against the detention of such persons can be fully implemented in practice.

In addition, Women for Refugee Women says the Government should stop detaining people while their asylum claims are in progress, as detention will always have an adverse effect on an asylum claim.

Natasha Walter told the Guardian: "We need to move away from detention and build a fair asylum process in which cases are heard and resolved while refugees are living in the community, so that they are able to start rebuilding their lives."

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesman told the Guardian: "We operate on a presumption against detention, and the Adults at Risk policy aims to improve our approach to identifying individuals who may be particularly vulnerable to harm in detention. When people are detained this is for the minimum time possible, and the dignity and welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance."