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Six formal allegations of sexual assault were made by detainees at Yarl’s Wood against guards between 2013 and 2015, a Parliamentary Question has revealed, after the Home Office originally declined to provide the information.
Angela Crawley, SNP MP for Lanark and Hamilton East asked the then Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, about the issue in a written question on 20 June 2016, receiving an answer on 28 June. Crawley asked both how many incidents of rape and sexual assault had been reported at the centre in the last three years, and how many of these women had subsequently been deported.
The reply specified that “there have been six allegations of sexual assault made by detainees against staff at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre between 2013 and 2015. Of these six allegations, one was made in 2013, three in 2014 and two in 2015.”
The response, however, stated that data on which of the women in question had since been deported was “held centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost”.
Until forced to respond to the parliamentary question, the Home Office had refused to reveal the information, despite being subject to legislation that requires public bodies to disclose information that is in the public interest, citing the likelihood of harming the ‘commercial interests’ of private companies involved in running the centre.
A report by Women for Refugee Women las year found that 13 of 38 women interviewed had been seen while they were naked, 16 said men had seen them in the shower and 14 said men had seen them while they were using the toilet. Earlier research from Women for Refugee Women indicates that around 70% of women detained in Yarl’s Wood were victims of rape and/or other forms of sexual violence in their country of origin.
Yarl’s Wood is currently run by Serco, which secured a contract in November 2014 to continue running it for eight years. The company has previously stressed that ‘punitive action is taken where necessary by dismissing members of staff’. However, in August of last year, chief prisons inspector Nick Hardwick called the centre a ‘place of national concern’ after a report found more than half of women detained there say they feel unsafe. Labour MP and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, criticised the Home Office’s refusal to answer requests for information about sexual violence against detainees: ‘The defence of commercial interest can never be used when there are important issues of policy that should be in the public domain’.
This article was originally published in Women’s Asylum News 136 June/July 2016.