Lucy was 23 when she fell pregnant, following a brutal gang rape by three men in her home country. After receiving threats on her life, she fled to the UK, believing she would be safe here – only to find herself locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre at five months pregnant. This is her story, as told to Sarah Graham.
After the attack, I knew people were after me. I was getting threatening letters, I saw men in front of our house, and my mum and I knew the police would not help. I told her it was too much for me; my life was in danger and I had to leave. We sold almost everything we had for me to escape, and friends and relatives contributed to the cost.
I didn’t know what to expect from England. I never thought in my life I would travel, so when it happened I didn’t think of anything except that I had to find somewhere safe for myself and my baby.
When I landed in the UK, they started interrogating me at the airport. They took my bag and my phone, so I couldn’t contact my mum, and the guy told me that if I didn’t tell him the truth, he was going to lock me up. I was really scared.
They took me to Colnbrook [detention centre]. I was really distressed and didn’t know what was happening to me. I wasn’t eating or drinking, just pacing up and down. That whole night I didn’t sleep, and I was crying throughout. The next morning they let me call my mum, and she was crying with me. “All that we struggled for, all the money we spent, everything was in vain,” she said.
I met a Ghanaian lady in Colnbrook, who told me how to seek asylum, and I started making calls to lawyers. Then the escorts came to take me to Yarl’s Wood.
When I got there I was so tired. In those two days I’d been through a lot – I’d had a long journey, and since I arrived I’d not been able to rest well. I felt so ill, and I had a lot of abdominal pain. When the doctor came to my room, they didn’t do anything, just said they’d ask the midwife to see me. The midwife came a week later and took some blood samples. I told her the kind of pain I was going through, and that I wanted to have a scan.
I was so scared that maybe I’d lost the baby or something, because the pain was too much. I don’t know if they thought I was trying to make something up, but whenever I went to the clinic they didn’t take me seriously.
I thought I wasn’t ever going to get out of that place because I didn’t have anybody to fight for me
In the end it became very bad and I had to phone my solicitor to tell her what I was going through. I wasn’t able to sleep – even turning onto my other side in bed was very painful. She called the clinic and told them that if they didn’t take me to the hospital, she was going to call an ambulance. Then they came and took me to Bedford hospital. I was escorted by two ladies, and they were with me even when the doctor was examining me.
Sometimes in the night, male officers would come and do the roll-call. I wasn’t comfortable when those men would come into the rooms. There were times when, because of my pain, I would miss breakfast. I was so tired of the food in the dining hall – any time I ate it, I just felt like throwing up.
Throughout my time in Yarl’s Wood I was always in my room, crying, feeling very depressed and down. My friends would be telling me: “it’s not healthy for the baby, you have to cope with it”, but I was just so scared. I realised some people had been in Yarl’s Wood for a long time – some had been there for a year. I thought I wasn’t ever going to get out of that place because I didn’t have anybody to fight for me.
The saddest part was when my roommate was released – she was the only person I’d been able to call on. In the room, when I was in pain, she was the one who helped me. She’d been there about three months, and she was always praying or crying too, but she was stronger than me. I was very down when she left.
I was released after almost a month. When I look back at my pregnancy, it was full of stress. I never had any happy moments of being pregnant. I feel safer here than at home, but even now I can’t feel secure because I don’t yet have a decision on my asylum claim. I don’t know how long my baby and I will have to wait.
In 2014, 99 pregnant women were detained in Yarl’s Wood. Tomorrow, Tuesday 22 March, Caroline Spelman MP will host a Parliamentary event on the detention of pregnant women, as part of Women for Refugee Women’s ongoing #SetHerFree campaign.