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Severe riot at Harmondsworth refugee removal centre

michael c | 20.07.2004 09:24 | Migration

A serious disturbance at Harmondsworth removal centre appears to have been sparked by the death of an inmate.

Report forwarded from National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, with BBC report, background info on Harmondsworth and refugee imprisonment, links to previous stories including the background to the fire at Yarls Wood detention centre, and campaign links.

NCADC News Service

Severe Riot at Harmondsworth Removal Centre

Asylum death sparks 'disturbance'

BBC News Tuesday 20th July 2004

Harmondsworth handles 12,000 failed asylum seekers a year

The trouble, which included fires being lit, was believed to have started after a body was found hanging at around 2000 BST on Monday.

The Home Office said the death was not thought to have been suspicious.

Some staff had to leave "for their own safety" but the centre was now being brought under control, they said.

BBC correspondent Philippa Young said there were dozens of police vans and a fire engine outside the centre, and a police helicopter flying overhead.

She said it is thought no-one was seriously injured in the disturbances.

'Under control'

A fleet of coaches was called to the detention centre to take the detainees to a place of safety, said reports.

The centre opened in September 2001 to hold people detained by the immigration service for overstaying their time, entering the country illegally or having failed asylum applications.

The facility can hold more than 500 people.

"We can confirm there was a serious disturbance at Harmondsworth in the late evening. This resulted in staff from residential units withdrawing for their own safety," said a Home Office statement.

"All the emergency services were called, and contingency plans with the prison service were rapidly put into effect.

After initial damage within the centre, the atmosphere is beginning to quieten. Prison and centre staff are working to bring the centre safely under control

Home Office
"After initial damage within the centre, the atmosphere is beginning to quieten. Prison and centre staff are working to bring the centre safely under control."

In September last year Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said the centre was an unsafe place for staff and detainees, despite hard work by staff.

In February 2002 Yarl's Wood Removal Centre in Bedfordshire was partially destroyed during an outbreak of violence.

A series of fires spread through the centre and the damage was estimated at £38m.
End of Bulletin:




Close Down Harmondsworth Campaign

UKDS Detention Centre Harmondsworth near Heathrow Airport in London opened in September 2001 and holds up to 550 men, women and children.

It is run by UK Detention Services (Sodexho) and functions as a detention and removal centre.

In the spring of 2002 construction was started on a second 550-place detention centre alongside the new centre. This will reportedly be modelled more on traditional prison lines with landings and so on.

The Close Down Harmondsworth Campaign holds demonstrations at Harmondsworth and campaign meetings. Please get in touch for more details.

Email :
Telephone : 01753 852853

Background info on detention of refugees in UK, with info on the different types of detention/removal centres, previous resistance within the prisons, campaigns to close them down, etc:

UK Immigration Detention Capacity at 1st June 2004

There is capacity for 2,260 persons in the UK Detention Estate, in places listed below.

Government expansion plans already agreed will increase the capacity to 3,136.

There are a considerable number of: asylum seekers/immigration defaulters held in UK prisons for indefinite periods, figures are not included in the detention estate.

There are also considerable number of asylum seekers/immigration defaulters who are held in police cells for up to seven days before being transferred to the detention estate or remanded to prison. However no figures for these people are available.

Latest available Home Office figures show that there are 4,000 foreign nationals in UK prisons serving sentences for criminal convictions. It can be safely assumed that all have or will be served with notices of intention to deport.

At the end of their sentence/release date, they will cease to be convicted and their status changed to deportee but normally they will continue to be held in prison as 'deportees', very rarely will they be released from prison or transferred to the Detention estate.

Pending legislation if passed and acted upon, will allow the Home Office, if any notice of intention to deport is upheld, to deport the person 4 months before the end of the sentence.Detention Estate: Removal centres, Removal Prisons, Reception centres.
Removal Centres
Campsfield, Removal centre 184 (to be increased to 300)
Dover Harbour, Removal centre 20
Dungavel, Removal centre 150 (to be increased to 194)
Harmondsworth, Removal centre 550
Logford, Removal Centre will open this autumn in the same grounds as Harmondsworth with 326 cells for high security detainees.
Manchester Airport, Removal centre 16
Queens buildings, Removal centre 15
Tinsley House, Removal centre 137
Yarl's Wood, Removal Centre 200 (increased to 450 when rebuilt)
Removal Prisons
Dover, Removal prison 316
Lindholme, Removal prison 112
Haslar, Removal prison 160 (to be increased to 300)

Reception centres
Oakington, Reception centre 400
Anne Owers, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, has released a series of damning reports on the UK's detention estate. The reports on Haslar, Campsfield, Dungavel, Harmondsworth, Lindholme, Oakington and Tinsley House can be accessed through the search engine @
Detainees held in prisons
Data on detainees, held in prisons of which there are a considerable number, is no longer readily available or accessible due to changes in Home Office policy.

Differences in treatment:
It is very clear that there are two systems of handling detainees, operating within the detention estate. Though all the above establishments are supposed to be run under "The Detention Centre Rules", there must be two versions of this document.

If the regimes between the removal centres and removal prisons are compared there are restrictive practices taking place in the removal prisons, which is to the detriment of the detainees held in such places.

Removal Centres: Management is contracted to private companies and staffed by civilians.

Removal Prisons: Management is contracted to the Prison Service and staffed by prison officers, who are no longer called prison officers. They have been regraded but no one at the moment seems to know what to. Some of the officers are still members of the 'Prison Officers Association" (POA).

Sir David Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, described the POA as an organisation, which contains some very reactionary and racist elements. And on several occasions stated that he does not consider the detention of asylum seekers to be a fit and proper role for the Prison Service.

Source: NCADC news archive

Source for figures: Hansard House of Commons Written Answers, management at /Removal centres/Removal prisons


In February 2004, a fire destroyed the Yarls Wood refugee detention centre. An inquiry (and investigation by the daily mirror) exposed racism and mistreatment of prisoners at the centre, and a complete disregard for the safety of prisoners before and during the fire, including a damning report from the fire brigade. But much evidence was concealed, and key witnesses deported before they had a chance to testify.

Fire At Yarls Wood Detention Centre, 15 February 2002:

Group4 racism at Yarls Wood exposed.


Campaigning Links:

National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns:

no border network:

Campaign to Close Campsfield:

Barbed Wire Britain – network to end migrant and refugee detention:

Close Dungavel Now:

michael c