YARL’S WOOD, an immigration removal centre (IRC) holding both men and women near Bedford, is no longer safe enough according to a recent inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

Despite there being little overt violence, 41 per cent of those held there said that they had felt unsafe at some time, and the atmosphere was tangibly different from the last time the centre had a full inspection in 2017. There were more detainees and protests, and frustration was fuelled by cumulatively longer periods of detention without progress on immigration cases: in April 2023, 51 detainees had refused to return to their cells, and 13 had subsequently escaped.

Thirty-two people had been held there for over six months, and eight for over a year. The physical environment had also changed, with the installation of razor wire and prison-style cell doors and vented windows. A lack of suitable rooms for association meant men congregated in corridors, which some other detainees found intimidating.

There was a high level of assessed vulnerability in the centre, including victims of torture, but the Home Office did not always pass this information to staff at the centre, which limited their ability to keep these men and women safe. Inspectors found that at least two psychotic detainees who were not well enough to be detained had been held in the control and separation unit under Rule 40 for extended periods.

Eighty-four per cent of detainees said they had felt depressed while in the centre, and 44 per cent said they had felt suicidal. Lengthy and indefinite detention and the lack of information about immigration case progression were the main causes of distress for many detainees interviewed by inspectors.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “This was a concerning inspection. Yarl’s Wood has been through a period of significant change, having been used as a short-term holding facility for those arriving on small boats before returning to its original function as an IRC. It was now having to manage a complex and large population of detainees, many of whom were being held for long periods of time with not enough to do.

“Many of the detainees we spoke to expressed not only their frustration but also their distress. Rapid action is needed to make sure that the men and woman held in Yarl’s Wood are held in more appropriate conditions and that their immigration cases are processed without delay.”

* Read the report on an unannounced inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre here.

* Source: HM Inspectorate of Prisons