Refugee women in detention being given forced hysterectomies without consent is yet another reason why Ice must be abolished, argues Eleftheria Kousta
In the latest horrifying scandal to emerge from the United States’ inhumane treatment of refugees and migrants, female detainees have been subjected to forced hysterectomies without medical cause or consent as a nurse working for the facilities reported. This practice stands as a gross infringement of fundamental rights, just to add to the long list of violations perpetrated by Ice (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency).
The practice of forcing women to have hysterectomies, particularly women of colour, isn’t new. The US has a long eugenicist history of forcibly sterilising Native American, Black, Asian and other women. This latest use against refugee women shows clearly the role that Ice plays as an arm of the systemic racism in the US.
Since the agency’s rapid expansion there have been multiple reports of the dire conditions in which detainees are held, underscored by many instances of physical abuse and a strong gendered-based pattern of violence as investigations reveal. From 2010 to 2017 there have been 1,224 recorded incidents of sexual assault, most of whom involve an officer or contractor as the perpetrator. The systematic use of violence and intimidation practices have essentially made Ice ‘black sites’ a ‘Guantanamo’ with a legal basis.
Additionally, as medical procedures against the bodily autonomy of migrants take place, Ice facilities have served as a death trap where access to healthcare is routinely refused, especially in Covid-denying Trump’s America. An Iranian scientist held in custody claimed that the authorities did little to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including denying detainees hand sanitiser and masks. Crucially, given the numbers of those held in the prisons, social distancing is impossible and the disease has the potential to spread like a wildfire.
Whilst Ice is often in the spotlight of criticism for emulating the conditions of a concentration camp, we should not forget that immigration detention facilities in other western and transit countries also fall way below standards as investigations find, from Australia to Libya, and right here in Britain. Yarlswood detention centre has long had exposed for mistreatment and violent abuse of women immigrants who have been held there. Since it was repurposed a month ago to “short-term holding facility” for migrants who have arrived from across the Channel, reports have emerged of detainees being denied proper food or access to legal advice.
It is of extreme importance that the movement for abolishing migrant and refugee detention gains salience and deems this practice illegal. Ice and its peer organisations in other countries are not institutions that can be ‘reformed’ as they go against basic human rights principles, and it is time for them to go once and for all.
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