Heena, who is seeking asylum in the UK, has been detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre for five months.
She has no idea how long she will be kept there. For detainees at Yarl’s Wood, the length of time they are kept inside is indefinite.
Before Heena*, 33, was detained at the removal centre in Bedfordshire, she had been living in the UK for five years, where she studied for a masters and worked as a nurse.
‘I love the UK, I speak the language, I met my partner here, my home is here, I have worked hard and paid my taxes here,’ she told Metro.co.uk.
She was detained in July, after which she found out that she could claim asylum due to the dangers she faces in her home country.
Originally, she was told she would be kept at Yarl’s Wood for just two weeks
But in the months since being locked up, Heena’s physical and mental health has deteriorated dramatically. Her hair is going grey and falling out, and she has lost weight.
She has been diagnosed with severe stage four endemetriosis and recently underwent painful keyhole surgery to remove cysts that had grown on her uterus.
She was supposed to be monitored for 24 hours after her surgery but she says nobody checked on her for four days.
‘I only ate because the other girls in here would bring me food,’ she explained.
She also speaks of being at ‘the very last stage of being fed up’ and when we meet, says she hopes to be able to see a mental health expert in the coming days.
‘I was meant to see them today but the appointment was cancelled,’ something that happens quite regularly, Heena says.
But the worst part of being detained for Heena is the loneliness.
Some of the women in Yarl’s Wood have friends and family members who are also seeking asylum. Because of this, they do not have the necessary ID required to book social visits, and many fear that if they try to visit they too will end up being detained.
‘I am so lonely. I want to speak to people but I just don’t feel like it,’ she said. ‘I can’t cope with the situation anymore.’
Heena was hoping to be released in time for Christmas and was heartbroken to be spending it in detention.
‘I’m Christian so our one thing to celebrate all year is Christmas. I want to go to Church, I want to be at home, I want to be with my partner,’ Heena said.
‘It’s so hard being in here at Christmas, I can’t even talk about it because it makes me so sad. It was the only thing keeping me going: I will be out at Christmas.
‘Facing the thought that I won’t be released by Christmas, it’s too much, I can’t bear it. I don’t want to be in this place.’
Adults at Risk
There are 13 detention centres like Yarl’s Wood across the UK. They are outsourced to private companies like G4S and Serco, who run them for profit.
In 2016, in response to widespread concerns about immigration detention, the Home Office introduced a new ‘adults at risk’ policy, which said vulnerable people or those particularly ‘at risk’ of harm from detention – including women who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence – should not normally be detained.
It also states that if a woman’s vulnerability becomes clear in detention, she should not normally remain locked up.
But research published in November by the charity Women for Refugee Women found dozens of survivors of sexual violence have been detained or are being detained at Yarl’s Wood in breach of the government’s own policy.
The We Are Still Here report also found there is no screening process that actively identifies the vulnerabilities of women before they are detained and if women disclose their experiences of abuse after detention, they often remain locked up.
Just under 2,000 women who have come to the UK and claimed asylum are locked up in immigration detention every year but the research found that in 2016, just 15 percent of asylum-seeking women leaving detention were removed from the UK.
The other 85 percent were released into the community to continue with their claims.
Heena said: ‘I honestly can’t believe I am still here. I am so sad there are days I can’t get out of bed. It is such a waste of a life in here.
‘We don’t know when it will end, we are told nothing and we rely on other people so we have no control over our own lives.
‘If they keep us for five months and then release us – what was the point? If they keep us for five months and then deport us – what was the point of those five months?
‘I really honestly feel like I am dying in here. It is draining the life from me. I am grey, I am losing my hair, I am losing weight. There is no hope.
‘When you hear of human rights, I don’t know what human rights they are talking about – because I don’t see them.’
After the report was released, the Home Office said it aims to keep people detained for the minimum time possible.
‘The dignity and welfare of those in our care is of the utmost importance,’ a spokesperson said.
*Heena’s name has been changed to protect her legal case.
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