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4 September 2008

Helene’s testimony

'They put me and my baby in a kind of cage in the back of a van, like we were animals'

By Staff Blogger

Helene lives in Bristol with her husband Carol and her daughter Lizzie, who is now 16 months old. Helene and Lizzie were taken to Yarl’s Wood in January 2008. Carol followed them there shortly afterwards. They were released in March, and currently have don’t know whether they will be allowed to stay in the UK or sent back to Cameroon.

‘They came to take to take us to Yarl’s Wood about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was me, my baby and my husband. They put me and my baby in a kind of cage in the back of a van, like we were animals. I was crying and I couldn’t stop and the baby didn’t understand what was happening. They took my husband to another detention centre. Nobody would tell me where they had taken him. Every day I asked where my husband was but I was just ignored.

After a little while they took us to the airport. That was very scary. It made me think about my situation in Cameroon. My picture is on the front page of the newspaper in the country. I ran away for a reason. I came to Britain for safety, not because I wanted to come here. I had to leave my children and my family in Cameroon. I had to come here because I was scared for my life. There I was a working woman. I had a nice job. Here they won’t let me work. They want me to go back to my country. Do they want me to die? Do they want my baby to die?

When we got to the airport my husband was there too. Our solicitor managed to get our flights cancelled. They said my husband and I could go back to Yarl’s Wood together with my baby.

My baby was very ill in detention. She couldn’t eat or sleep. She lost a lot of weight. I complained because there was no food for her. They don’t have food there for children of her age. The doctor said they couldn’t give her any medicine. The only thing they would give her was Calpol. We sat up all night with her because she wouldn’t sleep at all. I think the hardest thing for the children in Yarl’s Wood is that they have to deal with their parents’ fear. They have done nothing wrong, and have never been afraid before, not like us. Children know when their parents are afraid, really afraid.

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For three weeks I pestered and begged for them to do something for my daughter. Then they asked me to take her to the doctor. I was happy because I thought they had found out what was wrong with her and were going to help us. But when we got to the doctor, the nurse said they were going to give Alice malaria tablets. I asked what for? And she said because we were going to Africa. She said they were helping us by giving us malaria tablets here because in Britain they were free, and in Africa you have to pay. I said we could not go back to Africa, because we would die. Malaria treatment would do no good. I refused to take the medicine. Then they were angry. They said I didn’t care about my daughter. I said I came to England because I care about my daughter.

Yarl’s Wood is not a place to be. Not for anyone, but especially not for children. We came here for help and they treated us like we are animals. We came here for help and then they put us in Yarl’s Wood to remind us of everything we’ve been through in our own country.

In March they let us out of Yarl’s Wood. Things have gone quiet now but I don’t know what is happening. We try to make the best of things for my daughter but it’s hard because we’re always scared. I’m always waiting for them to knock on our door in the night and put us in that cage in the van again. I don’t ever sleep because I don’t know which night it will be.’