24 Oct 2016, 00 mins ago

The notorious Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre has once again become the focus of serious allegations concerning the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK.

Last month Women for Refugee Women (WRW), a charity that defends the rights of female asylum seekers in the UK, released a report pointing to frequent abuse, humiliation and violations of privacy against women detainees in Yarl’s Wood.

The recent report is based on the interviews of 38 women from varying backgrounds and ages, the majority of who reported regular invasions of their privacy. According to the report, 33 of the women interviewed said that men in Yarl’s Wood watched them in intimate situations, including while they were naked, partly dressed, in the shower or on the toilet.

Prior to arrival in the UK, most of the women had suffered some form of persecution, including torture, sexual violence and forced marriage and WRW argues that they should not have been detained in the first place. WRW is particularly critical of the “Detained Fast Track” procedure; a decision making process that is designed to allow the Home Office to deal with “clear cut” asylum applications rapidly. According to WRW, the procedure is being applied routinely to very complex cases, often involving applicants who have experienced rape or other gender-based violence and to people who have been persecuted because of their sexuality.

The accounts provided by the women in WRW’s report should all weigh in favour of temporary admission and against detention. But there is a sizeable gap between theory and practice, especially, when it comes to DFT. Eleven of the women interviewed by WRW were allegedly detained after being put into the fast track. Worryingly, twenty out of the thirty-eight women said that they did not even know why they were being detained at all.

The risk with detaining asylum seekers, which is especially high with DFT, is that some vulnerable individuals inevitably end up suffering the very treatment the asylum process is designed to protect them from. There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that severe mental illness suffered as a result of previous trauma is not recognized or treated and can even be compounded.

Serco, the company that manages Yarl’s Wood (and has just had its contract extended until 2022), has called the 2015 allegations uncorroborated. They come, however, just under a year since Serco dismissed several employees following a series of investigations into incidents of sexual abuse. In light of stories such as these, more and more organisations are calling for the Home Office to reform the regime for detaining asylum seekers and for an end to the Detained Fast Track process entirely.