Yarl's Wood detention centre

Which Lives Matter? Immigration Detainee Traumatised after Restraint

Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Bedfordshire that hosts thousands of migrants has come to the forefront of controversy again as it emerges staff excessively restrained a detainee.

A British court has heard how a 48-year-old Nigerian woman was restrained by guards in the IRC with her face held to the ground. The unnamed woman spoke about how she had pleaded with the guards to release pressure off of her neck, fearing that she would be strangled to death.

The female detainee stands accused of assault after allegedly biting three guards and kicking another while being restrained within Yarl’s Wood.

Serco, a private company that similarly is no stranger to controversy, is supposed to deliver services on behalf of the Government with regard to immigration matters. Its detention custody officers arrived at Yarl’s Wood on 30 May 2018 with the intention to deliver the detainee to escorts who would, in turn, place her on a charter flight to deport her to Nigeria. The woman subsequently resisted the removal as she had previously been told by her legal representative that the deportation was no longer going ahead.

Due to the woman’s vulnerability, she had been placed on 24/7 suicide watch at the centre as she was considered at risk of self-harm. She was also able to sit in the court with aided support rather than in the dock because of her traumatised state.

The case highlights the cruelty of the system.

Judge Sally Fudge permitted the woman to leave the courtroom without asking for permission if she felt overwhelmed at any point which she had to do on several occasions. Emotions ran high at the footage of the restraint was played out to the court.

Detentions Operation Manager at Yarl’s Wood, James Brown, described the detainee as “extremely resistant and aggressive” and stated that “if a detainee is not compliant, we are well within our rights to use necessary and reasonable force.”

Yarl's Wood detention centre
A banner shrouds Yarl’s Wood detention centre where protesters frequently gather to raise awareness to substandard conditions and the treatment detainees face. [Image by Bright Green].

Brown informed the court that guards had been trying to persuade the woman to leave for three hours before force was used. The woman removed her clothes once a camera was brought in to film the restraint. Upon being asked if he believed this to show her fragile mental state, Brown answered: “It’s a sign of showing non-compliance.”

Brown expressed worries that they would face financial penalties if a detainee was not delivered to escorts on time and therefore would miss their deportation.

“There are at least five officers restraining her and bringing her to the ground. Being in a prone position face down on the floor is risky because of asphyxiation and should be used for as short a time as possible.”

Defence lawyer, Anita Davies

Defence Anita Davies said of the footage being shown: “There are at least five officers restraining her and bringing her to the ground. Being in a prone position face down on the floor is risky because of asphyxiation and should be used for as short a time as possible.”

The footage depicted the woman crying and pleading with the guards to stay away from her neck, clearly fearful that pressure to the neck would result in severe damage or death.

The case highlights the cruelty of the system. Many individuals in immigration detention are afflicted with mental health complications which is hardly surprising considering they are being incarcerated indefinitely and likely suffering from grief, trauma and anxiety.

The female who is known to be extremely vulnerable was terrified at being deported and resisted it. Guards, frustrated with the ongoing resist and as Brown says fearing financial penalties if they did not deliver her to escorts, used restraint that only further traumatised the woman. Surely, a more compassionate way forward is possible.

Join the discussion