Set Her Free: The Plight of Pregnant Asylum Seekers

Can you imagine…

Fleeing your home, leaving behind your friends, family, and belongings to seek asylum in another country?

Being detained, indefinitely, in that new country?

And not only that, but being indefinitely detained while pregnant?

In 2014, this was the sad reality for 99 women, indefinitely detained at Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre while pregnant.

It is desperately sad that these women are deprived of their liberty simply because they are seeking asylum. Seeking asylum means seeking safety.They have left their homes due to fears for their own safety, and the safety of their families – whether due to war, or political or religious persecution (or a mix of all three).

The word ‘indefinitely’ in this context is frightening. The concept of being detained at all, let alone not knowing when you might be given your freedom and leave to remain in the UK – or if you will be deported, sent back to the place you have fled – is just unthinkable, thankfully, for most of us.

Because of an accident of birth.

These women have done nothing wrong, committed no crime. They are looking for a better future, a safer future for themselves and their families. They have left behind their homes, livelihoods, friends, family and belongings to come to a new country, with a different language and culture.

Last month, I was invited by Mumsnet to appear in a video on behalf of Women for Refugee Women to help promote their #setherfree campaign.

Fellow bloggers Hannah from Budding Smiles and Cash from The Comeback Mum and I each read the story of a woman who has been detained at Yarl’s Wood while pregnant.

Their stories are heartbreaking.

Please take a couple of minutes out of your day to watch the video, and listen to these women’s stories.

Each of these women’s stories underlined their plight, and how they are deprived of even the simplest things that can brighten a dark day.

For example, part of Lara’s story that really got to me was where she mentioned that melon was the only thing she could stomach during her morning sickness. One guard said she was allowed an extra portion because of her condition, but another guard wouldn’t let her have it.

The extra portion of melon should have been a simple gesture that gave Lara a bit of brightness in her life. Instead, being denied the fruit reinforced her sense of helplessness, despair, and loneliness.

I don’t think you need to have been pregnant to empathise with Lara. I think we’ve all been unwell at some point in our lives, and a simple comfort like a kind word, a hug, or a favourite food really can make all the difference.

No matter what your thoughts on immigration are, surely these women’s stories cannot fail to move you, to empathise, or to make you think.

If the world was different, or in a parallel universe it could be you, or me, in Yarl’s Wood or somewhere similar.

And that thought is another thing that sent chills through me while listening to these women’s stories.

All detainees have access to basic medical care, but in pregnancy things can go badly wrong – and quickly. How will these women know to recognise the signs and symptoms of pregnancy illnesses, or recognising things that might be affecting their unborn baby? How would the guards know the difference between, for example, heartburn and pre-eclampsia?

I had HELLP syndrome and pre-eclampsia when I was just 24 weeks’ pregnant. Luckily my midwife recognised the symptoms that I had dismissed as regular pregnancy gripes as something serious and sent me straight to hospital.

My life was saved, and my son Hugo was given a fighting chance.

I hope these women and their babies would have the same opportunity to receive timely and appropriate care – and I cannot bear the thought of any lives being lost unnecessarily.

As these women say in their stories, the health care they are given is ‘no good’, and they do not have confidence that those caring for them have their best interests in mind.

Putting aside the physical concerns, these women would surely be left with a long-lasting psychological and emotional impact. And that is on top of having survived the trauma and conflict that forced them to leave their homes. In the video, you can hear the women talk of problems such as depression, self-harm, anxiety

Let’s remember that no matter what our nationality, politics, or religion, we are all human beings.

We all deserve to feel safe, and to be free.

Let’s come together for Mother’s Day, and International Women’s Day (which falls on Tuesday March 8) and stand together to support these women.

These women who need our help.

I am privileged to have helped, with Hannah and Cash, given a voice to these desperate women.

You too can show them your support and solidarity by signing this petition, and by sharing the video to help raise awareness.

I cannot think of better words to conclude than with Lara’s own plea:

Detention is not a place for pregnant women. I hope and pray that this practice is abolished, forever.

Thank you.

Me, Hannah, and Cash

Me, Hannah, and Cash

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