Stop the Home Office expanding Yarl’s Wood

by Rosie Newbigging

Stop the Home Office expanding Yarl’s Wood

by Rosie Newbigging
Rosie Newbigging
Case Owner
I am a resident of Bedford, a Care4Calais volunteer and a member of Stand Up To Racism Bedford.
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Rosie Newbigging
Case Owner
I am a resident of Bedford, a Care4Calais volunteer and a member of Stand Up To Racism Bedford.
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I am bringing a challenge against the Home Office’s inhumane plan to house up to 200 asylum seekers in camp-style accommodation at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC). Please help me stop what I believe is an unlawful and immoral housing strategy.

Who am I? 

I am a resident of Bedford, a Care4Calais volunteer and a member of Stand Up To Racism Bedford. I have volunteered in the Refugee Kitchen Calais which provides hot food for asylum seekers living rough in Northern France – I am appalled at how badly people seeking asylum are treated in France. But the British government is also demonstrating a lack of humanity and kindness that I believe violates the law. 

I believe that people fleeing war, persecution, torture, human trafficking and abject poverty deserve to be treated with humanity and dignity – not housed in portakabins in a desolate remote part of Bedfordshire and with an Immigration Removal Centre next door. And I believe, and I am advised, that the law can help prevent this indignity.

What is Yarl’s Wood? Why should we stop it? 

Yarl’s Wood IRC is a notorious Immigration Removal Centre, used to detain migrants, mainly women and formerly many children, while residency issues, including asylum claims, are processed. Some Windrush generation women have been detained at Yarl’s Wood. 

It has been a constant source of controversy due to its horrendous history which has included a fire, hunger strikes, allegations of sexual abuse, suicide and ongoing concerns about healthcare. Despite this, the Home Office has now decided to develop temporary accommodation on land shared with the IRC with SERCO running the camp-style accommodation. 

Development of the site is already underway, with the Home Office claiming that emergency provisions under town and country planning regulations, allow them to develop sites without planning permission or essential environmental or social risk assessments. This means that there has been no consultation, none of the usual scrutiny by responsible agencies, and in fact there has not even been publication of the plans in the public domain.

The Home Office has already come under intense scrutiny for the rapid development of Ministry of Defence barracks in Pembrokeshire and Folkestone, which has led to extreme far-right activity, community tensions and isolated asylum seekers who are subject to extremely poor standards of living. Added to which, there have been outbreaks of Covid-19 infections in other Immigration Removal Centres.

Asylum seekers deserve better

Yarl’s Wood is not a suitable place for asylum seekers who have fled countries where there is war and conflict, or who may be survivors of torture or trafficking. The journeys which people have taken to reach the UK have meant that they have risked their lives and suffered unimaginable hardship. The emotional impact of using camp style accommodation, in a remote area, next to an immigration removal centre, with virtually no access to support in the community, is something we all need to oppose. 

Bedfordshire has a long tradition of welcoming migrants and our local community is enriched by diversity. If the Home Office plan goes ahead, the camp would be a shameful mark of racial segregation in North Bedfordshire. Asylum seekers would be prevented from participating in society and could be a target for attacks by the far-right. 

Asylum seekers do not deserve to be segregated or subject to harassment. People deserve dignity, support and decent and humane accommodation while their claims are processed.

What are the next steps in the case? 

On 8 January 2021, my lawyers sent out a Letter Before Action to the Home Office and Bedford Borough Council, challenging the decision to develop and use Yarl’s Wood to accommodate asylum seekers. 

There are potentially two Defendants as I am asking (1) the Home Office to immediately cease development of the site and confirm that no asylum seekers will be accommodated at this site; and (2) Bedford Borough Council to confirm that they will consider enforcement action against the Home Office’s unlawful development and circumvention of planning controls. 

We await a response from the Home Office and Bedford Borough Council. If their response is unsatisfactory, we will issue judicial review proceedings. There are alternatives where asylum seekers can be housed in community locations while claims are being processed.

How much are we raising and why? 

I feel passionately about the rights of people seeking asylum and I am deeply troubled by the government’s proposed plan for Yarl’s Wood. I believe that Yarl’s Wood is a stain on the humanity of our local community. 

Everyone should be treated with humanity and kindness. Imagine if it was you or your family seeking sanctuary.

To take this legal action, I will need help with my legal costs. My lawyers have agreed to act at significantly discounted rates in view of the public interest nature of the case, but I also will have to pay court fees and there is a chance that if I lose, I would have to pay the costs of the other side (I am applying for a cap to limit the extent of those potential costs). I need to fundraise so that I have some protection against these legal costs. 

Please donate what you can, every penny will help. Please share this page on social media, via email or WhatsApp with family and friends. 

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