So, that’s how the UK help with breastfeeding in Yarl’s Wood…

12 05 2008

… by deporting the mother and baby as fast as possible.

Apologies for the lag in posting a follow up on Glory and Tracy – I’ve been away.

I saw her at Yarl’s Wood on the Wednesday, with another Mum along for support. The visit was called short by Yarl’s Wood, as a guard came along to say she had to go to the Health Centre at 5. We all hoped this meant that finally, some lactation support was going to happen! I then couldn’t get hold of her on her mobile, until finally getting through well after 9pm. She’d been called into the Health Centre to tell her that she and Tracy were being put on a plane first thing in the morning. She’d not been allowed back to her room as they were ‘packing it for her’.

But, I hear you say, that can’t happen, as detainees are to be given a minimum of 48 hours notice before being removed. And so therefore it is impossible that Glory was told at 5pm in the evening that she’d be flown out the next morning.

It’s also impossible that she was not allowed to go back to her room to pack, and get her mobile phone, for several hours. And that when a top London legal firm phoned through, desperate to allow her to legally appoint them to her case… that Yarl’s Wood staff couldn’t track her down.

So she wasn’t really thrown on a plane with a 12 week old baby, and flown out of the country without one moment of lactation support given to her. I’m sure that sequence of events will turn out to be some horrendous mistake, and/or the Government will duly apologise for what clearly could not have happened.

Honest.

The good news is, that Glory was sent to Finland. A country that still sees women and babies seeking asylum as human beings with rights to proper support and protection. She’s settled in the community, and trying to overcome the trauma of what happened to her in the UK, and at Yarl’s Wood.

Unfortunately, she’s still having problems breastfeeding. Things got better after I visited in Yarl’s Wood and gave her handouts and information, so it’s better, but she’s in pain and Tracy is still unsettled. Glory says she understands now, after reading the handouts, that Tracy is trying to breastfeed as if her nipple is a bottle teat. A Finnish breastfeeding peer supporter is trying to arrange to see her in the next few days, and Glory does have access to proper medical support in Finland, so I’m hoping to report all is well there.

It does say something, however, that the best way to get a baby and mother proper lactation support in the asylum system in the UK is to… send them to a civilised country to sort it out.

Now, why is Glory in Finland? You might well ask.

Glory is in Finland as that is where she claimed asylum. And was happy to claim asylum from.

So why was she in the UK? Why was she detained in Yarl’s Wood?

Because when she was pregnant, she flew to the UK to sort some things out for the baby. Whilst here, UK immigration lifted her and put her in Yarl’s Wood and didn’t release her until it was too late to return to Finland for the birth. Then they lifted her again, prior to flying her back to Finland and when her baby was taken from her at Yarl’s Wood she was stuck here until it was sorted.

Although she wanted to go back to Finland, she was fighting them on that as she needed out of Yarl’s Wood to sort out the stuff for the baby.

Sound a bit suspect? Can’t quite get your head around that? Me too. Really didn’t make sense to me. After all, sorting stuff out for a new baby… well yes, I can see that. But needing to fly in to the UK from safe refuge in Finland, and then insist you get out of Yarl’s Wood for a few days before they send you back… well, that’s a bit barmy, isn’t it?

Until you find out what she needed to sort out, that is.

Until you find out that what Glory desperately needed to sort out, was that if she and the baby were deported back to Cameroon, from Finland, baby Tracy would be subjected to Female Genital Mutilation by Glory’s family. As punishment for being born out of marriage.

That Glory knew this, and was desperately trying to arrange for a ceremony to take place, that must take place within 3 months of birth, to protect her baby from being mutilated. That this was what she was trying to sort out for her newborn daughter – protection from being mutilated as soon as they returned to Cameroon.

Glory’s own mother, Tracy’s grandmother, was already being harassed in Cameroon by the family, and being threatened with being thrown out of her house as she was a bad mother for allowing her daughter – who was legally in Finland as a student – to become pregnant and give birth. Glory was trying to get info and support via the Cameroon community in London, in making sure the permissions and articles needed for the ceremony was approved by her family in Cameroon.

Glory was terrified, is terrified, that her precious baby will be held down on a table and have her genitals mutilated in order to cleanse the family of the shame of an illegitimate birth.

And Yarl’s Wood knew this. Glory said she not only told them repeatedly, but that they went off and found out the cultural circumstances she was describing were genuine.

Under UK guidelines, any health care professional who discovers that any child in the UK is under threat of Female Genital Mutilation, has a duty to report such to child protection. There is a separate unit dedicated to this with the Metropolitan Police – Project Azure. I’m now in contact with some support groups on FGM, and am hoping to get some contacts to discuss Tracy’s case with the police, later this week.

As I understand it, under the rules, Yarl’s Wood should have informed appropriate authorities of the threat to Tracy, and in absence of any info from Yarl’s Wood itself, I’m approaching the police first for help and clarification. (Yarl’s Wood haven’t even acknowledged receipt of my letter to them about lactation support for Tracy, and it’s been nearly 4 weeks since I handed it in personally).

It will be a sad day indeed, if I discover that along with the other human rights the UK ‘suspends’ for children of asylum seekers, this procedure of protection against FGM is not applied…

Whilst I’ve known about FGM, I’ve not really had anything to do with it. Since finding out from Glory this was what her main concern was, and that the ceremony she needed to have done was being delayed by her stay in Yarl’s Wood, and Tracy’s removal by social services for 4 weeks was actually contributing to the likelihood that Tracy would be mutilated when they were returned to Cameroon… I’ve found out a bit more. Mostly, I’ve found out that women stay silent on this issue, and that Glory is an amazing and wonderful mother for standing up and screaming from the roof tops that she does not want this done to her baby daughter.

I sat in Yarl’s Wood and saw the look on Glory’s face, as she held Tracy in her arms, and spoke about how she feels about Tracy being mutilated. It’s not a look I ever want to see on any other woman’s face. Ever.

And you never want to see the look on my face now, as I type this.

So this is where we are with supporting Tracy. Hopefully, we can get the breastfeeding problems ignored by Yarl’s Wood sorted out in Finland. Glory has a new asylum case lodged in Finland, on the threat of FGM to Tracy. We may also be able to sort out this ceremony, which will stop the intimidation of Glory’s mother in Cameroon, but that’s a long shot at this point.

I’ll keep you updated. It may be a long gap on this one, as this is such a complex case.

More details on how to support children facing FGM can be found here.

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