This week Unlocking Detention visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire. Like other centres, it is isolated and hard to reach.

However, with space for up to 304 women and 68 families, it is notorious for the detention of women. Stephen Shaw said it hosts “one of the largest concentrations of women deprived of their liberty anywhere in Western Europe”. Women are also detained in Colnbrook, Dungavel, prisons and short-term holding facilities. Up to 38 men can also be detained in Yarl’s Wood.

Novelist and campaigner Zadie Smith called Yarl’s Wood “an offence to liberty, a shame to any civilised nation, and a personal tragedy for the women caught in its illogical grip”.

Visiting Yarl’s Wood

If you were to visit Yarl’s Wood, your journey might be a little like this:

You can follow the whole journey through this photo essay. It includes Eiri’s experience travelling to the centre, and her reflections afterwards, but no photos from inside the centre – because it’s not allowed. (If you are visiting other detention centres, can you consider writing a photo essay like this for Unlocking Detention?).

All UK detention centres, including Yarl’s Wood, have dedicated visitors groups who regularly visit these hard-to-reach places:

This week, Sonja Miley of Waging Peace reflected on her very first visit to Yarl’s Wood with the Sudanese Volunteer Visitor’s Group.


What’s it like to be detained in Yarl’s Wood? We are very grateful to Boatemaa, Ijeoma, and all those who have shared their experience.
Boatemaa was detained in Yarl’s Wood earlier this year. She was recently released to continue with her asylum case, after four months in detention. She says, at the end of her blog, “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.”

Also this week, we heard from Ijeoma Datha-Moore, from Let Us Learn. Ijeoma looks back on her 15-year-old self who – after 13 years of living in the UK – suddenly found her and her family detained at Yarl’s Wood. She says, This experience of detention changed me. I wasn’t as open as I was before. … Detention is very damaging, to both children and adults alike. I now work at Just For Kids Law, which is the best place for me after all my experiences. 

To people who are reading this and feeling angry about immigration detention, I would say challenge it!”

In 2015, Aderonke Apata – detained in Yarl’s Wood for nearly a year – gave evidence to the Parliamentary inquiry on immigration detention.

She said, It was life threatening. Horrific… Everything bad in this world. It was such an isolating thing, where I had to wake up every day doing the same thing for nearly one year, despite asking for bail. The applications were all turned down. I was not even given a ticket to go home for nearly a year but was still kept in detention. I only got a deportation order in Jan 2013. It broke my family. It exacerbated my mental health problems.”

The long-lasting effects of detention, described by Aderonke, are unfortunately extremely common.

Music from Yarl’s Wood

Many organisations participate in the Unlocking Detention tour, sharing their own experiences and resources relating to detention. This adds a lot of variety and depth to the tour – like these beautiful recordings, shared by Music in Detention. Thank you!

What can you do?

Thank you so much to everyone who has been following and sharing the tour, and sending us your selfies. Please keep them coming!

Finally, congratulations to Callum Tulley…

This week, Callum Tulley won the Liberty Courageous Voice Award for “blowing the whistle on the chaos, violence and abuse at Brook House immigration removal centre.