Labour Borough Councillor Louise King won the unanimous support of councillors of all parties for a motion presented at Bedford Borough Council on Wednesday (25th March) asking the Home Office for answers regarding the ongoing detention of women in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC).
The IRC at Yarl’s Wood has been subject to a multitude of allegations of mismanagement and neglect of detainees since it opened. Yet in November last year Serco were controversially awarded a second successive contract, worth £70m, to run the immigration centre near Clapham. They recently announced there would be a net reduction in staff of 45 posts.
Cllr King and other members of the Bedford Borough Council Yarl’s Wood Sub-Committee visited the immigration removal centre in February as part of their ongoing investigation into standards of healthcare and mental health assessment for women detained there.
Councillor King charged, “The review into IRC’s announced by Theresa May doesn’t even begin to address the fundamental issues. We are detaining women, many of whom have had traumatic pasts, for indefinite periods of time in prison-like conditions. Serco have made multiple mistakes and yet were awarded a second lucrative contract. How can that be allowed to happen?”
King's motion to full Council mandated the Chief Executive to write to the Home Secretary to ask her to fully consider the recommendations of the Borough Council with regard to the use of immigration removal centres.
In her motion, Cllr King proposed that the Chief Executive also write to the National Audit Office requesting that an investigation be undertaken into the Home Office decision to award this IRC contract to Serco. She insisted that they explain how the decision was taken to award a further contract to Serco to manage Yarl’s Wood in the light of recurrent reports of abuse at the IRC throughout its previous contract.
King also has asked for details on the criteria were for awarding the contract and consideration given to the welfare of the people detained at Yarl’s Wood when awarding the contract.
The Borough Council has demanded that alternative solutions be sought to end the practice of detaining people prior to deportation. They argue that no person should be held in any such institution indefinitely, and never for longer than 28 days, as recommended by the All Party Parliamentary Group in their report published 3rd March 2015.
Furthermore, the Borough Council contends that no person with mental illness, who is pregnant, or who has been a victim of torture should be detained and that existing regulations against the detention of such individuals in anything but the most exceptional circumstances must be more rigidly enforced.
Ultimately, the Borough Council believes that every detainee should be treated with respect and have prompt access to healthcare which preserves their dignity and right to privacy.