Diane Abbott attacks 'shocking' treatment of Yarl's Wood detainees

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has condemned "shocking" treatment of detainees at the Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre amid claims dozens of women are on hunger strike in protest at the conditions.

After making her first visit to the controversial facility, Ms Abbott said she and Shami Chakrabarti were told by detainees that around 65 women were refusing food but management had denied it was a hunger strike.

"Because they are refusing to admit they are on hunger strike, they are not monitoring them in the way that they should," she told the Press Association.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti leaving YarlÕs Wood Immigration detention centre (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti leaving YarlÕs Wood Immigration detention centre (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Serco, which runs the centre, confirmed that some women were refusing to eat in the restaurant but said this did not constitute a hunger strike.

The Home Office also said it was aware of a situation where some detainees were refusing food but said the individuals concerned were being closely monitored by medical professionals.

Ms Abbott said she would be raising conditions at the centre in Bedfordshire - which was described as "a place of national concern" by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in 2015 - in Parliament.

She said she had been seeking access to the site for more than a year and what she found when she got there had been "pretty shocking".

"There are concerns about standards of medical care, there are concerns about access to legal help. There are concerns about the length of detention. Even convicted prisoners have a release date," she said.

"It cannot be right that people for whom the Government has a duty of care and who have committed no crime are being treated like prisoners and have so many issues in relation to their health and welfare.

"A lot of them had issues with depression and some of them didn't seem to be getting help for that. It was all very concerning."

Shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti, who accompanied Ms Abbott on her visit, said a Labour government would end the practice of indefinite detention for people adjudged to have no right to remain in the country while they awaited deportation.

"This policy is rotten. You don't leave people in limbo. It is wrong in Guantanamo Bay. You don't leave people in indefinite detention," she said.

She expressed concern about the attitude of some of the staff they met including a doctor working at the facility.

"He was incredibly defensive and aggressive and he told me that we had an agenda and we shouldn't be listening to these women," she said.

Lady Chakrabarti said the management also tried to make light of the claims that the women were refusing food and claiming that sales in the centre shop had risen "exponentially".

"They said they (the detainees) are not going to the canteen sales in the shop had gone through the roof," she said.

A spokesman for Serco said: "There are a number of women who did not take food in the restaurant over the last 48 hours but that does not constitute a hunger strike.

"Furthermore the purchase of food by residents from the shop increased at the same time so we know people were eating. This was fully explained to Diane Abbott and her party."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls , especially in support for the removal of those with no legal basis to stay in the UK.

"We take the welfare of our detainees very seriously and detainees who choose to refuse food and fluid are closely monitored by on-site healthcare professionals."

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