The Question of Yarl’s Wood, or Neil Robertson’s Wager

There is no point trying to defend Yarl’s Wood, as Junior Home Office minister Meg Hillier MP has, or so is the charge of Diane Abbott. There’s cause for concern, and this cause has been taken up by John McDonnell with an EDM, that reads:

That this House notes that women detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre have been on hunger strike since 5 February 2010 in protest against being detained for up to two years; condemns the detention of victims of rape and other torture, of mothers separated from their children and anyone who does not face imminent removal; believes that such detention flouts international conventions and UK immigration rules; requests that HM Inspector of Prisons urgently carries out an independent investigation into reports of violence, mistreatment and racist abuse from guards, being kettled for over five hours in a hallway, denied access to toilets and water and locked out in the freezing cold, which women have made to their lawyers, the media and supporters, including the All African Women’s Group and Black Women’s Rape Action Project; and calls for a moratorium on all removals and deportations of the women who took part in the hunger strike pending the results of that investigation.

This certainly isn’t the picture given here:


  • There is an on-site dedicated healthcare centre with a small in-patient facility.
  • The healthcare team accessed by residents is made up of
  • GPs,
  • General nurses,
  • Mental health nurses,
  • Health visitors,
  • Midwives,
  • Dentists,
  • Counsellors and allied Health care professionals and Consultants who attend the centre where there is an identified need
  • Education is provided for school-age children on weekdays in two separate classes; one for children aged between five and 11 and one for children aged 11 to 16. There is a nursery for children under five.
  • The centre also has a well stocked library which is managed by a full time chartered librarian. Activities for adult detainees include team sports such as badminton and volleyball in the sports hall; cardio-vascular fitness routines in a well-equipped gym and exercise to music. Supervised arts and crafts sessions are held each weekday morning and afternoon. The chance to develop ICT skills in dedicated computer rooms is also available.
  • Other facilities include hair salons; youth club and cinemas. Opportunities are available for paid work.
The centre is run Serco Home Affairs, a part of the Serco Group plc, and was once described by the Guardian as the biggest company you’ve never heard of. There is, however, much talk of them of late. And this is the main subject of a recent charge; how could Serco allow the abuses to happen under their jurisdiction?
Paul Cotterill has rightly stated in an entry that there are serious concerns about a child’s rights here, that clearly ignore many of the articles of the 1989 UN convention on the Rights of the Child. This was subject to some media coverage early last year, but talk of it had ceased somewhat up until only a little while ago.
Today, Neil Robertson for the Liberal Conspiracy, and on his own blog, has written a call-to-arms, and asked for a statement, or a kind of justification of how Labour bloggers can still support the Labour Party knowing full well what the attitude towards Yarl’s Wood is, or at least, the perceived inaction.
I think the question of Yarl’s Wood opens up debate on not just the centre itself, but immigration in general.

As a blogger and labour supporter I find the idea of Yarl’s Wood uncomfortable, I find the idea that there are beatings inside Yarl’s Wood uncomfortable, but though I find the former uncomfortable, realistically this would be one of the better options for illegal immigrants (when you consider the other dreadful things that can happen to them, when they become unknown of, all rights disappear, homo sacer etc etc) if it weren’t for the latter. So I think the majority of Labour bloggers will agree that an inquiry needs to be made into the goings on in Yarl’s Wood, so as to ensure that the extension of good will is bestowed against these desparate people, and that all care must be taken to see that they are treated according to the law, and not have their human rights disturbed in the process.

In the meantime, the action that needs to be taken here, and hopefully this will be the outcome of the EDM, and Phil Woolas will listen to calling voices, that efforts need to urgently be raised on immigration applications, so as not to keep people detained in the centres needlessly. I appreciate the complexity of the process, but the urgency of the issue trumps; it’s well within reason to expect this procedure to be sped up.

As Diane Abbott has pointed out, Labour’s handling of this has probably been mismanaged, and should have been dealt with with a lot more care than it clearly has been. Therefore, to Neil’s charge towards Labour bloggers, I don’t think he’ll get any answers back he wasn’t expecting, and I don’t think many Labour members will read the Guardian report without some guilt and distress. So I’d focus my attention away from party ideology, and seek answers from individuals.

Incidentally, Abbott’s name is not on the list of signatories for the EDM, if she had real conviction about Meg Hillier’s failure, should she not be calling into question her continued employment?