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According to a new report from Women for Refugee Women there has been little change to the situation for women immigration detainees since the Home Office put a time limit on the detention of pregnant women and implemented an Adults at Risk policy.  Its research found that every year, the Home Office locks up in immigration detention more than 1500 women who have come to the UK and sought asylum. For those women detention can be really traumatic, particularly if they have survived violence.  Women for Refugee Women have gathered lots of evidence that asylum systems in other countries that don’t use detention can be more efficient and more humane.

Women for Refugee Women were hopeful that the policy changes might lead to a reduction in the detention of vulnerable women. But according to the report the Home Office hasn’t been open about how the policy is working in practice, so Women for Refugee Women decided to conduct their own research.

The findings of the report are disappointing. Women for Refugee Women talked to 26 women who have sought asylum and been detained since the policy came into force. The vast majority say that they are survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence, such as forced prostitution, FGM, or forced marriage.

From the interviews with these women that Women for Refugee Women carried, it appears that the Home Office has not put in place any kind of mechanism which will actively screen people before they are detained and find out if they are vulnerable. And if women disclose their prior experiences of violence once they are in detention they are often kept locked up.  Take a look at this short video with ‘Vivian’, who was detaied in Yarl’s Wood.  Read the full report.

A new report by Women for Refugee Women ‘Detained: Women asylum seekers locked up in the UK’ explores the experiences of 46 women who have sought asylum and been detained in the UK.  72% of the 46 women interviewed said they had been raped in their home countries, 41% that they had been tortured, 85% that they had been either raped or tortured.


Home Office guidelines say that victims of torture should only be detained in ‘exceptional circumstances’.  The evidence in the report suggests that victims of torture and rape are being detained routinely.

The 46 page report shows:

  • Suicidal Despair 83% of the women interviewed said that they felt depressed and more than half thought about killing themselves. One in five said they had tried to kill themselves in detention. One third had been on suicide watch in detention.
  • Male staffing  Most of the women interviewed had been guarded by male staff, and 70% of them said that this made them feel uncomfortable. Women reported that male staff had guarded them on suicide watch and that they were looked at on the toilet and in the shower, and  that male guards came into their rooms without knocking.
  • Indefinite detention Immigration detention is indefinite, there is no set tariff. Within the report’s sample the longest stay was 11 months and the average nearly three months. Home Office statistics show that of the 1,867 women who had sought asylum and left detention in 2012, 40% had been detained for more than a month.

WRW believes that no asylum seeker should be detained while their claim is being considered. On the way to making this a reality they recommend the following:

  1. Women who state they have experienced rape, sexual violence and other torture should not be detained while their claims are being considered.
  2. There should be no male staff employed in Yarl’s Wood where they come into contact with women detainees.
  3. If refused asylum seekers are detained immediately prior to removal, this should be for the shortest possible time. There should be an upper time limit of 28 days on all immigration detention.

Read a full copy of the report

Check out Women for Refugee Women’s website and follow them on Twitter @4refugeewomen