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Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): Is it surprising that, when women are being forced to go back to countries such as Zimbabwe, they resist the escort services? We all know how horrendously Mugabe is behaving towards the people of his country. If I were being deported to Zimbabwe, I would resist strongly as well.
Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend understands my drift; she has also anticipated a point that I was about to make. There is a problem facing the immigration service and those who work at Yarl's Wood. What should they do when people feel an instinctive sympathy with those who are resisting deportation?
When those allegations were made, I did not go public, heavy with outrage. I went to see the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), then the Minister responsible for these matters, about the need for CCTV to be carried in the escort services' vehicles. He agreed with me that the Government took the allegations seriously, and CCTV cameras were ordered for the vehicles. We have to assume, therefore, that there was some substance to the allegations. Accordingly, I am afraid that the House must assume that physical abuse by the escort services taking people to ports of departure existed, and continues to exist.
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I shall return to the incident of the other week. The allegation was that on 2 May 2005, three Zimbabwean women were taken from Yarl's Wood. They were taken in separate private cars, because the demand for vehicles with CCTV is high and they are not always available. Therefore, there was no CCTV. They were driven to the side of a Kenya Airways airplane, and one woman in the car made it clear that she did not want to go. Each of the detainees was accompanied by three other people, both men and women. As soon as the first woman had made it clear that she did not want to go, all three were seized on and bound, and physical efforts were made to force them on to the plane. On their return to Yarl's Wood, they complained of their treatment, were treated for their injuries, and some were ill for many days subsequently.
As those are allegations, I will say no more about them, except that I would have thoughtI hope that the House agreesthat they were pretty serious. I have therefore asked the Home Office to stop carrying out deportations unless escort services are equipped with CCTV on all occasions, or failing that, to give the detainees the chance to have an independent observer with them. I tabled that written question to the Minister last week, and it has not been answered definitively. Will he say in his wind-up whether no escort service will be used unless there is CCTV or an independent observer, in order to prevent the problems with such allegations? For the sake of the system's integrity, the independent monitoring of the service, as under clause 39, is to be welcomed. I am only sorry that it is needed.
What of the omissions from the Bill? Last Sunday, I paid another visit to Yarl's Wood to see those women who had been refusing food. I wanted to ensure their welfare and to discuss with the Yarl's Wood authorities what their responsibilities toward them were. I was aware of an incident on the previous day, which was reported subsequently, in which about a dozen women at Yarl's Wood had obstructed the deportation of another detainee and barricaded a room. After a few hours, the authorities were able to regain control without violence or injuries to anyone. The women responsible for the protests and on hunger strike were segregated in a separate unit. I met them, they had free association and plenty of space, and apart from being understandably sad at their situation and distressed at reports of what was happening in Zimbabwe, they were physically well. They were encouraged by reports of what people on both sides of the House are doing to raise the issue of deportations back to Zimbabwe, including the efforts of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). They were as puzzled as the rest of us that the Government seemed to be turning a deaf ear to the cry to halt deportations to Zimbabwe.
The Yarl's Wood authorities appeared to be ready to return those women from segregation to the rest of their friends. Last night, at 10 o'clock, I received a call from the Zimbabwe Association, which told me that three women in segregation had been removed from Yarl's Wood to an unknown destination, without reason, at 9 pm last night. I began to make inquiriesI asked why they had been removed and who had made the decision. Those are the least inquiries to be made by an MP. The Yarl's Wood authorities told me that the ladies had been told that they were going to Colinbrook, a short-term detention centre, but no reason had been given, and it was not the decision of Yarl's Wood to remove them.
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I was given another number to call of an official in the Detention Escort And Population Management UnitDEPMU. That official sounded nonplussed when I asked him for a reason why the women had been removed . "We don't have to give a reason for moving people around, I was told. He sounded surprised, as if no one had asked him that question before. After a short and heated conservation, in which I indicated that in this country he did indeed have to have a reason for moving people around in the detention estate, I was passed on to someone elseit was now 11 o'clock in the evening. That official was equally surprised to be asked to have a reason. After about 10 minutes of discussion, however, he told me that the women had been placed in Colinbrook because it was ultimately easier to remove them from there to Heathrow once they had been separated from their friends and their spirit had been brokenand that that was why they were taken away from Yarl's Wood. This lunchtime, I spoke to the deputy head of the immigration service, who was good enough both to confirm that, and to accept responsibility for the move to Colinbrook, on the grounds of what he termed "security".
I appreciate the courtesy in difficult circumstances of those who spoke to me, because I was not as courteous as I might have beenI was extremely angryparticularly that of the Minister's private secretary, Claire, to whom I was courteous, who spoke to me until 1 o'clock in the morning in her efforts to find out what had happened? Let us examine what I have described, however, in relation to the Bill and its protection for detainees.
I am immensely concerned that a DEPMU officer's first instinctive response to my question about the reasons why those in detention, who had committed no crime and been removed from friends and supporters, was negative. The deputy director of immigration indicated that that was wrong and that a reason should have been given, and he was clear with his own reasons, but he had had many hours to think of them. I know what I heard at 11 o'clock last night. It was the instinctive reaction of a system that was not regularly challenged and did not like to be challenged"We don't need to give reasons to move people around." That frightens me. I said to the gentleman that I did not think that I lived in such a country.
Where in the Bill is a provision to protect detainees from arbitrary decisions, to ensure that when they are given such orders they are given a reason and that those who represent them are given a reason why such a decision has been taken? Many other agencies operating for asylum seekers have alleged for some time that detainees are regularly shunted around, breaking their contact with lawyers or friends, and I have not always believed them. I am not so sure now. I was particularly concerned because two of the three names given to me last night were of people I knew. The first was one of the victims of the alleged assault by the escort service, and the second was an articulate young woman who had acted as spokeswoman for those who had barricaded the room to prevent their friend from being removedtwo women who had spoken at length to an MP. Was it coincidence that they were two of the three removed, or, in a bid to ensure security, was it tactically astute to remove those who had had contact with an Opposition MP, or perhaps it was natural that those who would
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speak to me would probably be the sort of people who would encourage their friends? I do not know the answer.
If the latter is the case, however, and it might be, may I make a plea to the Minister on behalf of my constituents who work at Yarl's Wood? They are having to implement policy, segregate ringleaders and subdue the spirit of those who are resisting removal, all to help our country send women back to a country that is a byword for tyranny. Should those women resist, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) said? Would we? And should they support their friends? If the Minister sees only the determination of the system to enforce its rules, and to return detainees regardless of destination, he is creating an almost impossible situation in our detention centres. How can removal directions be carried out unless there is a sense of justice and a confidence behind them?
As for the grounds of security that were given, I presume that it is thought that the women removed last night might be the focus of further resistance if they are given removal orders, or that they might be violent. But let us remember with whom we are dealing. These women have not committed any crime. For the most part, they have been living peacefully in the UK, on temporary admission, for many years. One woman was in the third year of her law degree at Leeds university, and was reporting regularly before she was picked up, and has been in Yarl's Wood for many months, so she has not been able to complete her degree. These are not convicted criminals with a history of violence, who, I remind the Minister, were placed at Yarl's Wood deliberately by the immigration service in the run-up to the incident there in February 2002. These are frightened African women, who are pleading for our compassion at a time when compassion is supposed to be oozing out of every pore of the Government when they talk about Africa.
The potential of those women for violence can surely be discounted. One of them is so frail now that she was described to me this lunchtime, by an officer at Colinbrooknot a representative of the asylum agencies or organisationsas being so weak that she now finds it difficult to move. Where in this Bill is the British state given the power to break the spirit of women's resistance to going back to a country such as Zimbabwe? I am sorry that the Bill does not address those issues, but it provides a chance for the Government to review again their policy on asylum in the light of the hard case presented by today's conditions in a country to which they are prepared to return failed asylum seekers.
The reason that I have spoken out in such a way today is that when a woman from a far country, with a black skin, is shunted around the detention estate, having committed no crime, in a situation in which the system does not believe that it owes an explanation to her, to citizens or to representatives, all our civil liberties are at risk. These women have been assaulted by the state's escort service, prevented from completing a degree, prevented from seeing an investigation completed into an allegation of assault, picked on perhaps for talking to an Opposition MP, and removed at night for no reason at all. Return those ladies to Zimbabwe? Some of them probably think that they have never left.
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