A piece written by Annahita Moradi, a former BID Volunteer and future pupil barrister at 4 Breams Buildings featured in the July issue of our e-newsletter.
The signpost at the entrance reads: ‘Welcome To Yarl’s Wood IRC’. You step inside, having passed a thorough security check where your fingerprint is read, and your clothes and body are scanned. An escort meets you and supervises your every step until you leave the building.
The walls are decorated with fig leaf paintings of flowers and happy faces of people with different skin colours holding hands. World maps are painted across walls, acting as constant and perhaps unintended reminders to the women of our man-made borders and where they’re headed. Posters promoting ‘Equality and Tolerance’ are everywhere, paying lip service to the values we supposedly cherish in the UK. How ironic to promote equality and tolerance in a facility that detains women simply because, through the accident of birth, they are from another place.
There are guides on shelves and tables for those being returned to so-called ‘safe countries’. For example: ‘Returning to Iraq’. In 16 pages you’re taught about Iraq’s healthcare, education, and employment systems; and you’re given a list of Iraqi public holidays. Iraq looks safe and recovered from the ravages of war still present, contrary to everything you know about it. Contrary to what those being returned there experienced and ran away from.
And then there are the women. Roaming around in their slippers, tracksuits, and baggy shirts. In general, they look tired and speak in a monotone. There’s no laughter – just silence, quiet conversations, or sounds of crying. Some are mentally incapacitated – having histories of being tortured, trafficked, and abused. Some are spiralling further into depression, and sleep is a rare luxury for them. Some feel hopeless, and some feel hopeful but with caution. Their stories are all different but with frighteningly common themes of injustice and vulnerability. Tears are normal here: “Who’s going to look after my 84 year-old mother?” - “I miss my child” - “I thought I knew what torture was until I got here.” – “Help me. Please.”
Stepping outside, there are a few women waiting to board the minibus with their small suitcases. They were released and are now free. But for how long?