Page last updated at 01:19 GMT, Friday, 22 August 2008 02:19 UK

A Yarl's Wood detainee speaks out

A report into an immigrant removal centre in Bedfordshire has condemned its treatment of children.

The HM Inspectorate of Prisons report found the Yarl's Wood centre incarcerated children for too long, wrongfully detained disabled children, and had transported families in caged vans.

Here is the experience of one woman who was recently held there with her husband and three children.

When they came to get us, we were asleep.

They came at 0400 and they took us, they put us in a van. They knocked at the door and I remember I didn't understand what was going on straight away, I thought it was the police. Then we realised.

They told us we were illegal, that we had to come with them, they didn't tell us how long we'd be in the van or where we were going.

They worried my husband would end up hurting himself, I think that's why they let us out

My first night there - it was just horrible, we couldn't sleep because it was all so new and terrible at the same time.

I was at Yarl's Wood for one month. I don't know how to explain it, it's like being in prison.

They gave us food, we had everything we needed but we were living within four walls and it is not a happy place. We had two interconnected rooms, with a little bathroom. I was there with my family - my three children and my husband.

At the beginning, we were in shock because we weren't used to living like that. We are a respectable family, it was horrible to be taken into a prison. There were high walls, barbed wire - it was awful.

But after a few days we began to get used to it. My children understood what had happened, they knew that we were in a kind of prison. Children can see everything, we couldn't lie to them.

'Shocked and depressed'

I told them that it was only temporary, that we would eventually leave. There was a school, there was a place for them to play. They went to school during the day and spent the evenings with us.

They cried so much at the beginning - especially the older one. But we told them it wouldn't be for ever. But my eldest girl has been a bit changed by the experience, she is sometimes scared. The younger ones, they've already forgotten.


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There are lots of families at Yarl's Wood, many with children. There were people from all over - Black, Latin American, Arabic. I wasn't able to communicate with people, I was like a robot when I was living inside. It was dark living there.

When they told us we could leave I just couldn't believe it, I was mad with joy.

I had lost hope. My children jumped for joy. When we arrived at Yarl's Wood my husband was diagnosed as suffering from depression. He became very ill - he didn't eat, he didn't sleep, he would stand upright through the night. We were so scared for him.

My experience in Yarl's Wood hasn't changed how I see England or English people

My daughter was terrified when she saw her father in that state. It made her very ill, they had to take her to the hospital outside the detention centre, twice, by ambulance. They worried my husband would end up hurting himself, I think that's why they let us out.

I want to stay in England, with my husband and family. My experience in Yarl's Wood hasn't changed how I see England or English people.

There are associations who have helped us, helped my husband find a job. My daughter is at school, and people look after her there.

I know it's the law and that's why they put us away but I hope it will change one day.

Young are too long in Yarl's Wood
01 Jun 07 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Centre 'damaging' child detainees
27 Jul 05 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Yarl's Wood 'lessons not learnt'
13 Feb 05 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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