A woman in Yarl’s Wood has tested positive for coronavirus in what is reported to be the first confirmed case at a UK immigration removal centre. According to the Independent, the Home Office confirmed the diagnosis over the weekend, stating she had been placed in isolation after showing symptoms. A spokesperson said no other staff or detainees had tested positive.
Women currently inside Yarl’s Wood have told charity Women For Refugee Women (WRW) that measures put in place to combat the spread of the virus are confusing and poorly implemented. Comments include women having to ask staff to remind others to wash their hands and a lack of extra protection for those with underlying health conditions.
Natasha Walter, director of WRW, stated that immigration detention was ‘pointless and cruel even in normal circumstances’. ‘From what women are telling us now, even basic precautions have not been taken at the centre to prevent and deal with a COVID-19 infection. Many of the women in detention have underlying health conditions that would make them even more at risk if infected. The Home Office is putting already vulnerable women at risk through its chaotic and inhumane system of detention. It is time to close the detention centre, and ensure that every individual receives the support they need to protect themselves and others during this pandemic.’
This positive test result follows legal action launched against the Home Office last week by Detention Action. The charity argues that the government is failing to safeguard detainees from coronavirus. It seeks the immediate cessation of further detentions, and the review and release of those currently held. A hearing is to be held this week to determine whether emergency measures should be granted.
Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said: ‘The Home Office needs to show a human face: this is a public health emergency and every hour matters. The science is clear that by continuing to detain people in unsanitary conditions they risk “explosive transmission” and hundreds of lives. The world’s borders have closed and so removals are impossible – detention serves no purpose’.
Following this challenge, The Guardian reported that the Home Office has released 300 individuals from detention centres.