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New Statesman: Why are pregnant women being detained in Yarl’s Wood?

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When the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre opened its doors in November 2001, it was billed as an extension of an airport waiting lounge, but for some of those who have passed through its barbed wire fences, it feels more akin to a prison. And a secretive prison at that. Just last year, the United Nations special rapporteur for violence against women was denied entry. Cameras are prohibited within the facility.

Rather than a short “transit”, some detainees will spend months and even years in detention. And despite the hotel-like description on its website (“All bedrooms have en-suite wet room and toilet and are tastefully decorated with floral curtains”), two former detainees I spoke to, a husband and his pregnant wife, described their experience as “worse than in the third world – the UK says it has the best human rights, but as someone who’s been through the system, I didn’t experience this”.

Yarl’s Wood has become notorious for a number of controversies since its opening, including the detention of children until as recently as 2010. Over the years, campaigners have pointed to consistent allegations of abuse within its walls, including racist taunts and “improper sexual contact” with female detainees. And in 2011, the treatment of pregnant women at the centre hit the headlines when it was revealed one pregnant detainee collapsed after enduring a four-day journey from Belfast to Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire via Scotland and Manchester. In a recent case, a pregnant detainee miscarried after collapsing at the facility.

New evidence from the charity Medical Justice now shows that some pregnant women in detention are receiving sub-standard medical care, putting the life of both mother and child at risk.

A Home Office investigation is currently pending into claims against Serco, the private company contracted to run the centre, made by the couple I spoke to. The allegations include the manhandling of an expectant woman, despite it being unlawful to use force on pregnant women to achieve removal, and accusations medical staff ignored serious symptoms including abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. The woman, who is currently five months pregnant, complained: “I kept being told everything was normal, but I knew something was wrong.” Upon release, she was treated for an infection that can cause miscarriages and stillbirth.

A recent investigation by Channel 4 News highlighted the abuse and harassment of women within the centre and the devastating consequences for their mental and physical wellbeing, particularly when many have been victims of sexual assault, trafficking, and various forms of violence in their countries of origin. The consequence of this abuse is even more precarious for pregnant women who – according to the government’s own guidelines – should only ever be held in exceptional circumstances. In damning evidence to an inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on refugees and the all-party parliamentary group on migration into the detention of pregnant women, team inspector at HM Prisons Inspectorate Hindpal Singh Bhui stated: “…we haven’t found those exceptional circumstances in the paperwork to justify their detention in the first place.”

Serco claims it provides “a comprehensive primary care service for all of our residents” but Medical Justice, a charity whose volunteer clinicians visit and assess detainees, has observed that the standard of care within the centre often falls short of NICE Guidelines and comparable recommendations. One volunteer midwife said:

I’ve seen women who need urgent medical and obstetric care, who I would have admitted immediately to hospital if I’d seen them in my normal practice, be denied access to hospital, one had an ambulance they called turned away at the gates and many have been denied pain relief and other symptomatic treatment. The delay in getting them to an obstetrician was sometimes over a week. Some of these women had risk factors for life-threatening conditions.”

The UK Border Agency claims not to know the exact number of pregnant women detained, but over a ten-month period beginning in March 2013, Medical Justice saw 21 detained pregnant women, one of whom was held for 122 days. Their case review showed that the detained pregnant women were around 7 times more likely to experience complications in pregnancy and for Phoebe Pallotti RM, a registered midwife and academic who volunteers with Medical Justice, the reasons are all too clear: “I’ve seen women with serious complications of pregnancy been forced to miss vital appointments because of their detention and recommendations from previous treating doctors and advice given by myself be routinely not acted upon and urgent care seriously delayed.”

For Pallotti, stories of pregnant women’s concerns about their and their child’s health being ignored by medical staff at Yarl’s Wood are all too common. In the majority of the cases she documented, medical staff seemed to flout standards of care applied in the wider community, including basic procedures such as informing patients about the medications they were being given and their potential side effects: “I’ve seen very vulnerable pregnant women with documented histories of depression or presenting with symptoms of depression and PTSD been given medication for preventing malaria (so that they could be removed) which we never use in the NHS for anyone with mental health problems because it can and does cause psychosis and suicidal ideation. In some cases their mental health seriously deteriorated.”

One former detainee charged midwifery staff from a local trust with falsifying information in her pregnancy records – she says she was denied routine consultations, including the standard testing for down-syndrome. She also accused the nurses at Yarl’s Wood of being complicit in the abuse she says she suffered: “They [the guards] were pulling me by my (pregnant) stomach and the nurses were just watching on even though I was calling for help.”

The primary purpose of detention is removal, but according to the most recent review by Medical Justice, of the 21 pregnant women they visited, none were actually removed and all but one were released back into the community. One woman left the UK voluntarily.

In response to the allegations made by Medical Justice, a Home Office spokesperson said:

Home Office detention policy is that pregnant women should not normally be detained. However, pregnant women may be detained when their removal is imminent and medical advice does not suggest the baby is due before the woman’s expected removal date. Women who are less than 24 weeks’ pregnant may also be detained under the fast track asylum process.

All detainees have access to healthcare facilities and medical advice at all times. There is a complaints system for anyone who feels they have not been treated in accordance with our standards and all complaints are investigated thoroughly.

The former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, is undertaking an independent review of detainee welfare and will pay particular attention to detainees who may be especially vulnerable, including pregnant women.”

As debates on immigration heat up close to the elections, the cost of detention to the tax payer is a hot topic. But the charity points out that detaining someone is around £30,000 more expensive annually than supporting them in the community and that contrary to popular belief, not only do pregnant women rarely abscond, but where deemed necessary, they can be removed from the country after the child’s birth. For Pallotti, this just confirms her view that the policy of detaining pregnant women needs reviewing. “Regardless of one’s views on immigration,” she noted, “the detention of pregnant women may not often be successful at achieving deportation, costs a lot of unnecessary money, and can be very damaging to the pregnant mother.”

You can read the original article here

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Written by Myriam Francois

April 1, 2015 at 11:04

HuffPost: British Jihadis – Turning Mothers Into Informants Is No Solution

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You can read the piece on the HuffPost site here

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In the government’s latest Orwellian measure, mothers and wives of “would-be jihadists” are ‎being urged to report on their loved ones, avowedly to “prevent tragedies”. It won’t escape notice ‎however, that despite protestations to the contrary, a message emanating from the police carries ‎criminalising potential. ‎

This latest strategy to deter Britons from heading to fight in Syria comes despite evidence ‎suggesting most families are oblivious to their relatives’ decision. Abdul Waheed Majeed, who died ‎in Syria in February this year is one of a number of Brits who told his family he was going on a ‎humanitarian mission. Other parents, like those of Abdullah Deghayes were unaware their son had ‎even left the country until it was too late. Ensuring any extremist views acquired by fighters abroad ‎are neutralised when arriving back on British shores is as critical for Muslims as it is anyone else, but ‎relying on Muslim women to undertake the work of the security services is not only likely to be ‎ineffective, it also risks further undermining women in highly patriarchal settings as possible ‎‎’agents’, not to be trusted. ‎

Research in December from the King’s College-based ICSR estimated 1,900 people from western ‎Europe have travelled to Syria to fight, including 366 from the UK. In terms of the threat posed by ‎their return, Shiraz Maher from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political ‎Violence suggests around 1 in 9 returning fighters represent cause for concern. And yet this latest ‎advice suggests all Muslims contemplating travelling to Syria are a possible threat and goes on to ‎place the onus for our national security in the hands of the Muslim community, turning mothers ‎into informants. The call can be situated within an increasingly intrusive state of surveillance and ‎securitisation of the British Muslim community.‎

The Birmingham ‘Trojan Horse plot’ is just the latest indication that when it comes to Muslims, the ‎counter-terrorism lens is applied even before the facts of the case are established. In every facet ‎of life, from teachers and lecturers asked to spy on students, to healthcare workers on their ‎patients, youth groups whose access to public funding has been made conditional on sharing data ‎with law enforcement agencies, to university Islamic societies under pressure to divulge ‎membership lists – Muslims are well aware they’re being closely watched. Who knew even mums ‎would now be roped in! ‎

According to research by ICSR, the profile of foreign fighters is typically male, in their twenties of ‎South-Asian ethnic origin and with recent connections to higher education. Interestingly, this is also ‎the profile which overlaps significantly with those most likely to be unemployed – unemployment ‎among Muslims under the age of 30 is 23 per cent (compared to a UK average for young people of ‎‎17 per cent), stopped and searched, detained at airports , to struggle with poor educational ‎achievements, to be over -represented in our prisons. It is certainly telling that another British fighter, ‎‎23 year old Mohammed el-Araj from Notting Hill, had spent 18 months in prison before he was ‎killed in Syria in November last year. ‎

If you want to know the real reason the prospect of death can seem more appealing than life, then ‎look at the quality of life these young (predominantly) men are facing. Young men of that ‎demographic have a bleak future ahead – hit harder than most by austerity, they can anticipate ‎joblessness, discrimination, police harassment, possible incarceration. To many young men the ‎jihad may seem appealing because it provides ultimate meaning to a life which might otherwise ‎seem hopeless. ‎

The UK today has some of the most draconian “anti-terror” legislation in the developed world and ‎these disproportionately negatively affect Muslim Britons. Harassed and coerced into becoming ‎informants, what kind of a relationship do you expect young Muslims to have with a police force ‎which bulldozes its demands through dawn raids and indefinite detentions, yet seemingly fails to ‎tackle rising anti-Muslim hate crimes? What trust can you expect them to have in a system which ‎has demonstrated clear double standards in the extradition of Muslim British citizens and stripped ‎‎37 UK nationals – many of them Muslims, of their citizenship? Despite polls showing that British ‎Muslims strongly identify with the UK, you could hardly excuse a luke warm commitment to ‎Britishness from citizens who could essentially be stripped of that very identity!‎

Ifthekar Jaman, 23, a customer service rep, whose parents run a takeaway restaurant and who was ‎also killed in Syria described his feeling of disconnect from a society he felt rejected from in one of ‎his final posts on Twitter, he said: “It is better for the authorities to allow these Muslims who want ‎to migrate & do jihad. This way, we’re out of your way.”‎

Young people, Muslim or not, need a stake in the system. They need to feel that legal, mainstream ‎routes to success are open to them and ultimately they need to find a means of asserting their ‎self-worth. When such avenues are closed, other paths to criminality or extremism can begin to ‎seem more attractive. The UN’s counter-radicalisation programme advises “a package of social, ‎political, legal, educational and economic programmes specifically designed to deter disaffected ‎‎(and possibly already radicalised) individuals from crossing the line and becoming terrorists”. ‎Where are these initiatives?‎

In 2010, the communities and local government committee warned the Prevent programme was ‎backfiring and advised that the Department for Communities should devote itself instead “to ‎dealing with the underlying causes of all forms of extremism and division”. Instead of providing ‎young Muslims with new opportunities, the government has formulated a revamped PREVENT ‎strategy which Civil liberties group CAGE has described as “cradle-to-grave” levels of surveillance ‎and discrimination. ‎
In the Muslim community, we don’t need studies to tell us that PREVENT has been counter-‎productive in alienating, rather than engaging people. PREVENT is our bête noire. Muslims may not ‎agree on much, but the failure of PREVENT rouses surprising unanimity.

‎ According to Dr. Alex P. Schmid, Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI), “where (young) ‎people have alternative forms of expressing grievances and dissent, where they have other and ‎better occupational options than joining an armed, underground organisation, the appeal of ‎terrorism is likely to be smaller. ” The problem is the government would rather invest money in ‎counterproductive policies virtually designed to alienate the Muslim community than address the ‎need for better schools (clue: not through removing state regulation), jobs, opportunities and ‎more broadly a stake in the system. ‎

Polls indicate that Muslims are even more concerned than the broader public by the risk of extremism, ‎but the current breakdown in trust between the police and the Muslim community means ‎assurances about helping, not criminalising young Muslims are unlikely to be audible. If someone ‎you love is in jeopardy, you stage an intervention, you don’t add to their sense of alienation by ‎convincing them even their family members can’t be trusted. In other words, you rely on proven ‎methods of social work used for people in crisis. Not criminalisation. The asinine nature of this ‎latest ‘surveillance strategy’ is evidence of the problematic lens through which Muslims continue ‎to be filtered. In order to confront extremism, the police needs to forge trust with the very ‎communities they consistently casts blanket suspicion over, and ultimately we as a society need to ‎create sufficient stakes for young Muslim men to believe they have a viable future here in the UK.

Written by Myriam Francois

April 26, 2014 at 13:57