This week, Unlocking Detention tour is ‘visiting’ Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedford. Boatemaa* was detained in Yarl’s Wood earlier this year. She was recently released from Yarl’s Wood, to continue with her asylum case, after four months in detention. She shares her story here. (This is not her real name.)
I never knew my real parents. I was handed over to a family friend at the age of six, and then to an uncle a few years later. He raped me from the age of 10 onwards.
In 2011, I came to the UK to escape him. A man I knew did the immigration paperwork for me, and he brought me to the UK, but I was detained at the airport and taken to Yarl’s Wood. That first time I was detained, it was for two weeks.
When I was released the man who brought me to the UK took me to a house. At first the family who lived in the house treated me ok, but then less so. At first I had to sleep in with the children, but later on the floor of the living room. I wouldn’t sleep well and then they would shout at me if I fell asleep during the day. I did all the household chores on my own, and sometimes I would be left in the house to look after the children. I was never paid at all.
In the end I managed to run away. I went to live with some friends, but when they were arrested and detained I was in the house, and so I ended up back in Yarl’s Wood. I fell when enforcement came to the house and hurt my leg badly. I am still limping today.
First they took me to a police station. Whilst I was there I felt this horrible pain go through my whole body. I couldn’t stand up but I was told that it wasn’t an emergency. They put me in a wheelchair and after four hours they took me to hospital.
The nurse at the hospital said there was nothing wrong with me, and laughed at me. “You think this is funny?” I asked her. I never speak up for myself usually. That was honestly the first time I opened my mouth to someone.
I was told to walk back to the police car. I explained that I couldn’t walk. The nurse brought a wheelchair but wouldn’t bring it close enough for me to get into it. She just said to me “you can walk.”
From the police station I went to Colnbrook. I felt so bad. I was scared of saying anything.
When we arrived at Colnbrook I asked for help getting out of the van. They said no. I was in so much pain but nobody helped me. They said “why are there no reports from the hospital?” It was like I was lying. After a day at Colnbrook I was transferred to Yarl’s Wood.
I claimed asylum in Yarl’s Wood. I talked about the abuse my uncle put me through for the first time. I never dared mention it before because he had made me swear never to mention it. Even now I wonder what the consequences might be of mentioning it. I am in constant fear. I am sure he will find a way of punishing me.
But then the Home Office rejected my asylum claim. They said I didn’t have enough evidence, so they didn’t believe me.
After a while, my solicitor told me about Rule 35 assessments, and I was given one, but it went very badly. I told the doctor about the torture and abuse my uncle had subjected me to, but she summarised it in a way that wasn’t right. She didn’t write down anything about all my scars. And she didn’t ask me anything about my experiences when I first arrived in the UK, so I didn’t mention it. She even got my country of origin wrong.
I got in touch with the charity Medical Justice. They tried to get me another Rule 35 assessment, and one was booked for me. However, when I went to the appointment, Healthcare said there was no record of it, and no assessment was carried out.
I have been so ill in detention, with pains in my leg, back and stomach. I have fibroids and it is like I have a big stone inside me, moving around. It is very painful. I was taken for a hospital appointment but I need an operation.
Sometimes I think about ending it. I went and spoke to Wellbeing. I told them everything and they wrote it all down. Unlike Healthcare, they were helpful. They listened to me. They took me seriously. They were kind. They tried to help me with the doctor at Healthcare.
But everyday in Yarl’s Wood is a struggle. Because of my injured leg I can’t use the stairs. Some guards let me use the lift, others refuse. One said to me “you are not on a care plan, so you can’t use the lift.” When I pressed the alarm bell in my room because I needed help, a guard came in and said “I am not your carer. Don’t press the alarm again.”
I see other people being treated so badly. There were seven of them, all around a woman, restraining her, her hands behind her back. They dragged her off to segregation.
I don’t understand why I am being treated like this. I buried what happened to me for so long – and then when I spoke about it, and asked for help, this is what happened to me.
Boatemaa spoke to Sarah Cope, Campaigns and Research Officer at Women for Refugee Women, about her experience, who prepared this piece.