Here’s a press release, issued last night at 11pm, from the Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention and the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers
Asylum rights campaigners to hold press conference at gates of Yarl’s Wood
The Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention at Yarl’s Wood has called a press conference for 3.00 pm on Sunday 17 February outside the gates of the government’s flagship asylum detention centre, devastated by fire last Thursday night / Friday morning.
Local resident and Campaign member, Emma Ginn, said: “The latest statements from the Bedfordshire police indicate that our worst fears may yet be realised and that detainees died in the blaze. Quite literally, it looks like the policy of arbitrary detention can kill. At present, we are looking into a serious allegation that firefighters may have been blocked from reaching detainees in one of the burning blocks”.
Meanwhile, The Sun has seized on the tragic events at Yarl’s Wood to launch still another vicious campaign against asylum seekers. “We are giving the media the opportunity to hear the other side of the story about the reality of the conditions that had prevailed at Yarl’s Wood prior to the fire and about the treatment of the detainees since then”, said Ginn.
Ginn will be joined at the press conference by a representative from the National Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers (CDAS), Green Party representative Marc Schiemann, Weyman Bennett, the Black Officer of the Socialist Alliance and other local labour movement activists.
CDAS secretary, George Binette, said “If nothing else, the tragic events at Yarl’s Wood should serve to discredit the whole of the government’s asylum policy and, in particular, its determination to increase the use of detention in what are essentially Category B prisons.”
The Bedford-based campaign has already established that detainees, including a woman and her two-month-old infant, were left to stand for hours partially clothed in the sub-zero cold of Friday morning. Detainees, who were bussed to other detention facilities on Friday, were placed in handcuffs. Neither the police nor Group 4 officials have been forthcoming with information about the whereabouts or condition of detainees, despite repeated requests from relatives and regular visitors to the facility.
Group 4, a company awarded a ï¿½100 million contract to construct and operate the Yarl’s Wood complex, under a Private Finance Initiative deal with the Home Office, admits that the records it kept at the detention centre have probably been destroyed.
Emma Ginn noted that “The appeals of detainees could be placed at risk. We know of one man due to have a hearing on Tuesday of this coming week that will determine whether he will be able to stay in this country. Group 4 have so far refused to tell his solicitor of his whereabouts.”
This is the same company that, with the apparent approval of the Home Office, ignored repeated recommendations from the local Fire Service to install a sprinkler system in a complex built primarily of timber and brick. In mid-October 2000 an article in a Bedfordshire paper suggested that the facility could well prove to be “a death trap” in the event of a major fire.
The Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention at Yarl’s Wood has also called for another demonstration outside the detention complex to press its call for the immediate closure of Yarl’s Wood, the release of all its detainees and a full public inquiry into the events of last Thursday night and the conditions that triggered them.
For further information, call Viv Smith on 07905 589865, or Emma Ginn of the Campaign Against Arbitrary Detention at 07786 517379, or you can reach Alan Gibson, the Chair of the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers 07905 566183, or George Binette, its Secretary, on 07905 826304.