For the last couple of months, Yarl’s Wood has been in my thoughts. A statement by Zadie Smith in The Guardian first caught my attention. She described the detention centre for female refugees as a ‘a prison that looks like a sports centre, nestled in a business park.’ It’s a brilliant metaphor for everything wrong with contemporary Britain. And then I saw it was run by Serco, of all people – the kind of faceless, evil organisation you can’t quite believe hasn’t been invented by a satirical postmodern novelist.
(photo by Oliver White)
Yarl’s Wood. It even sounds nasty, doesn’t it? Like it’s a creepy fairytale, where Yarl is a wizard with a gnarled heart and mean fingers. Anyway, I started reading around. I read about the campaign against it started by Meltem Avcil, who was taken there with her mother when she was only 13. She describes a place where women can’t get changed because they’re watched 24-hours by male guards; a place of roll-calls, barbed wire and barely opening windows. I read of indefinite detentions; inadequate medical care; 71p a day spending money and a culture of abuse that has led to staff being sacked for sexual assault. I read of pointless deaths and senseless deportations.
These are women who have come to us, asking for hospitality and mercy. Women who have been victims of violence or rape or prejudice; who often fled their home-countries in fear of their lives. And the more I read about Yarl’s Wood, the more it seemed like a horrible spoof – a mocking enactment of their fears of abuse and injustice. A parody of their hopes for security and a new home.
So I wrote this poem, ‘Yarl’s Wood’, which I was pleased to have in The Morning Star yesterday, and which works with this idea of these women’s words being twisted. (I know political poetry isn’t everyone’s thing, but when I want to do something, poetry is what I do.)
And I signed this petition, which I hope you’ll sign too if you haven’t already.
This is happening in our country after all – this is how we treat people who ask for our help. Which is sick, right? It should make us all feel sick.