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Yarl’s Wood and UK State Violence Against Women of Colour

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CW: rape, abuse, torture, detention

The UK: a country that some would say prides itself on justice and equality. Yet, the antithesis of those values is housed just off of the A6. Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre is a racist and inhumane prison that enacts state violence against some of the most vulnerable women and families in the country.

A report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons just last week highlighted that women are being detained “despite professional evidence that they are victims of torture, rape and trafficking”[1]. Women that this country should be supporting and protecting are instead being detained for seemingly indefinite periods of time by a system that criminalises immigrant women’s bodies and reduces their stories to numbers in the highly racialised and problematic narrative surrounding immigration in this country.

“they suffer from the racialised experience of this country’s justice system”

And let’s not be complicit in the erasure of these women’s truths: many of Yarl’s Wood’s 300 detainees are women of colour. This means that they suffer from the racialised experience of this country’s justice system, which also results in a disproportionate prison population whereby Black Britons make up around 2.8% of the general population, yet are over 10% of those in prison – an even greater disproportionality than that of the United States.[2]

After attending the #ShutDownYarlsWood Protest on 18th November 2017, I cannot erase the women’s cries for help out of my mind, nor would I wish to. In remembering the reality of these women’s suffering, I am pushed to be relentless in demanding their freedom, the restoration of their dignity, and the provision of specialised mental health services amongst other things.

But the women of Yarl’s Wood aren’t the only ones subjected to this inhumane treatment. The immigrants and refugees of Brook House, Morton Hall, Tinsley House and all 11 of the UK’s immigration removal centres are also cooped up like livestock in disgusting sites of imprisonment.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree”

People are not livestock. Immigrants’ rights are human rights. No human being is illegal. For me, there is no question mark following these three statements yet, it seems, our justice system is of a different opinion. In moments like these, the words of Audre Lorde couldn’t ring truer, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” The bars to the fences of Yarl’s Wood are not ones that have ever physically contained me, yet my mind remains trapped there with the cries for help of my immigrant sisters.

Can feminism be justified unless it liberates all women and all those of marginalised gender identities? Those who are black and brown, immigrants, refugees and detainees alike. The emancipation of the women being inhumanely detained in Yarl’s Wood is a feminist issue and this movement must give a voice.

 

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/15/yarls-wood-chief-inspector-prisons-report-rape-torture

[2] http://www.prisonabolition.org/part-three-colour-violence-women-colour-prison-industrial-complex-uk/

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