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Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre - 'Not fit for Purpose'

National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campigns | 28.11.2006 11:10 | Analysis | Anti-racism | Migration | London | Oxford

Anne Owers HM Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) has published today a report on Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), the UK's largest immigration removal centre, stating that it was not performing satisfactorily against ANY of the Inspectorate's tests of a healthy custodial environment and that poor relationships between custody officers and detainees were "worse than had been seen at any other detention centre" and was "Undoubtedly the poorest report" issued by HMIP of any IRC to date.

Harmondsworth IRC is managed by UK Detention Services (UKDS) who last month renamed themselves Kalyx. Kalyx claim that they provide "nationally recognised standards of service, delivered by high calibre staff", providing "protection and care associated with the growth of the individual and strength", "attributes for which they are known and respected!" Their mission statement for Harmondsworth says: "Immigration detainees are not criminals. Our contract allows us to fully apply our core beliefs and values to ensure that the provision of services to this vulnerable group of people meets our high standards of care." and "All staff in our immigration removal centre must demonstrate a real interest in working with people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds."

Despite the fact that there have been major disturbances at Harmondsworth and Bereket Johannes was found hanged there earlier this year, HMIP reports that "Suicide and self-harm work was weak" and "Appropriate action had not been taken in response to problems identified by the inquiry into a recent self-inflicted death".

"This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an IRC" and that Harmondsworth "had been allowed to slip into a culture and approach which was wholly at odds with its stated purpose" further "It is essentially a problem of management, and it is of some concern that this had not been fully identified and resolved earlier by the contractor and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate." Anne Owers, HMIP

Having just read the poorest HMIP report ever, one would think that Liam Byrne the Minister for immigration cringed. Not a bit of it, it seems - the Minister just, implemented the Home Office's favourite tool - the cut 'n paste job, 'cut the bad bits, paste the good'. His official statement on the report said - "Detention is an essential part of an effective immigration system, but it is critical that it is done with humanity and dignity." Not one line on the inhumanity and indignity that has been the lot of the detainees.

Other HMIP findings include:

* Over 60 per cent of detainees said they had felt unsafe

* Bullying by staff : 44 per cent of detainees said they had been victimised by staff

* Detainees described some custody officers as 'aggressive', 'intimidating' and 'unhelpful'

* Over-emphasis on physical security and control

* Use of force was high, as was the use of temporary confinement in segregated conditions

* The incentive scheme operated as a punishment system

* Complaints system was distrusted and ineffective - some complaints raised serious allegations

* Some healthcare provision was good but insufficient nursing and mental health support.

Download the full report: Harmondsworth-2006-report.pdf

"I was detained for over 8 months in 3 detention centres - Harmondsworth was the worst. The guards were threatening and our many written complaints to Management were ignored. Detainees' property was removed with flimsy excuses. Guards claimed that some of the Home Office's own documents in my possession were "likely to incite and offend other detainees".

Mental degradation, depression, self-harm and attempted suicide were a daily occurrence. Bereket was found hanged, leading to a protest by other detainees which resulted in many being put in isolation, denied contact with the outside world and the right to attend religious services.

Setting arbitrary targets on deportations, indefinite detention of asylum seekers and other migrants with no automatic independent review, for profit by private companies, can only result in the sort of findings published by HMIP today." George Mwangi, ex-detainee, available for interview.

"I was trapped in the fire at Yarl's Wood and transferred to Harmondsworth the next day, where I was detained for 3 months before being transferred on to yet another detention centre. I had persistent cough from smoke inhalation, could not sleep and eat. I went to the medical centre in Harmondsworth every day but was only given paracetamol and told to get fresh air. Eventually, and inexplicably, they prescribed me steroids, which made my cough even worse. The Harmondsworth doctor never considered any side affects of the medication or conducted any relevant tests.

Sometimes we were locked in our rooms without any explanation. We were frightened. When the fire alarm went off, it made it even worse. Detainees were running around the room with the sealed windows and locked doors like an animals in a cage, scared we may be burned alive.

Bullying, hate, humiliation and discrimination were the common things staff subject detainees to every day in Harmondsworth. The amount of mental torture the detainees are put through cannot be described by words." Mrs A, ex-detainee, available for interview.

"I saw my first patient at Harmondsworth 16 months ago. He was a Zimbabwean asylum seeker on hunger strike, who was dangerously ill and in clinical shock . He wanted and needed to be in hospital. It took the threat of high court action to get him there. The manager at Harmondsworth insisted - against medical advice - that he be handcuffed, despite warnings that he could suffer a cardiac arrest in the ambulance, and the cuffs would get in the way of resuscitation. The cuffs were only removed after Kate Hoey MP spoke with this manager. (BMJ, 23/07/05, Vol 331:p178)

The latest patient I saw at Harmondsworth this month is suffering injuries inflicted in his home country and he is also seriously ill. There are many aspects of his medical care that are deplorable and have been potentially dangerous to him and to others.

Ms. Anne Owers found that "some healthcare provision was good" at Harmondsworth. She may be right. I have seen the medical centre a number of times. It is clean and well equipped. The doctors are all on the UK general practice register and probably quite competent. But the system of immigration detention encourages them to put their duties to their employer, Kalyx Ltd, which runs the detention centre for a profit, ahead of their duties to their patients. And the system as whole leads to institutional medical abuse of far too many detainees whom colleagues and I have examined." Dr. Frank Arnold, Medical Justice Network

Further info:

Anne Owers: Harmondsworth immigration removal centre - serious concerns

HMIP reports

"In Memory of Bereket Yohannes" + "Detainees punished over protest at suicide"

"Driven to desperate measures" - roll call of death of the 221 asylum seekers and migrants

British Medical Journal 23 July, 2005, Vol 331:p178

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National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campigns
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Harmondsworth riot

30.11.2006 14:58

Harmondsworth detention centre riot

The riot by immigration and asylum detainees at the Harmondsworth detention centre was entirely predictable, given the centre’s grossly inhumane conditions. Harmondsworth is Britain's equivalent of Guantanamo Bay - a total disgrace to a supposedly civilised, democratic nation.

During my human rights work with asylum applicants at Harmondsworth I have received persistent reports of grave human rights abuses by some staff. If true, they are so serious that criminal charges should follow against the staff concerned and against the Harmondsworth management company, Kalyx Ltd.

The allegations include claims of physical violence, sexual abuse, racism, homophobic harassment and corruption by certain staff, including alleged collusion with drug dealing and extortion within the detention centre.

These allegations concern serious imprisonable offences, which successive Home Office ministers have been alerted to, but have chosen to ignore. If the allegations are proven, these ministers should face criminal charges of negligence and of failing in their duty of care for allowing these abuses to continue.

Harmondsworth and its neighbouring detention centre, Colnbrook, should be closed down. The Home Secretary and his immigration and prison ministers should resign for failing to halt these apparently systematic human rights abuses against Harmondsworth detainees.

Peter Tatchell
Human rights campaigner
PO Box 17816
London SW14 8WT

Peter Tatchell
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