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Woman launches legal challenge alongside refugee charity after claiming she struggled to access advice while detained at new centre in Durham

The Home Office faces a fresh High Court challenge this week over claims it has denied in-person legal advice to vulnerable women at its new detention centre in County Durham.

Derwentside replaced Yarl’s Wood as the main single-sex facility which has capacity for 84 women and is run by the private contractor Mitie. It’s understood that 40 women are currently being held there.

Campaigners said the Home Office gave assurances that in-person legal advice would be available at the centre when it opened in Consett in December.

Experts said detained survivors of sexual abuse often struggle to recount their experiences over the phone to people they have never met, which can pose a risk of asylum and trafficking claims not being identified, women’s credibility being questioned, and wrongful refusals resulting in deportations to unsafe situations.
Charity Women for Refugee Women (WRW) said it had spoken to detainees at Derwentside who crossed the Channel to reach the UK and many were “extremely worried” about being targeted by the Home Office for removal to Rwanda.

WRW said the Government’s “cruel plans to remove people seeking safety to Rwanda make the need for proper, in-person legal advice at Derwentside more urgent than ever”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously suggested that women and children could be sent to Rwanda, and not just adult men, saying officials would “consider everyone for relocation.”

A woman, who has not been named, has launched a joint legal challenge with WRW after claiming she struggled to access legal advice while detained at Derwentside. Women are held at Derwentside until the outcome of their case – either removal or temporary admission into the UK – is decided by the Home Office

The case is expected to be heard on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London.

Shalini Patel, a public law solicitor at Duncan Lewis, the firm representing those bringing the case, said the decision to detain women at Derwentside was “extremely concerning”.

‘Home Office caused me unnecessary pain’

Jane, a survivor of gender-based violence who was detained at Derwentside for one month, said: “When they take you to Derwentside you just give up on life. Durham is so far away from where I live, so I was cut off from everyone I know.
“I felt I had no control over anything anymore. I couldn’t get information about what was happening with my case and it made me think, ‘Where will I be tomorrow? Will I be alive?’
“I tried really hard to speak to a solicitor but each time I got an appointment they didn’t call. All I could do was sit and wait next to my phone. Eventually someone called but they spoke to me for less than 10 minutes. I couldn’t tell them what I’d been through in that time – and the advice they gave me was wrong.
“The clock was ticking, getting closer to my removal date, and I felt I was losing my mind. The day before the flight was scheduled, Women for Refugee Women found me a solicitor who listened to me. They secured my release and now I am home, continuing with my asylum claim.
“The Home Office has caused me so much unnecessary pain. I don’t want any other women to go through what I went through.”
She added: “At a time when the Home Secretary Priti Patel’s policies are very much at odds with the rule of law, it is comforting that we have been granted permission on all grounds and the Court has recognised the importance of the issues before it.”


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