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Riot in Harmondsworth Immigration Prison.. Again

imc-uk-features | 30.11.2006 16:58 | Migration | Repression | London

Frustrated at being detained in awful prison-like conditions, often for long periods, the detainees of Harmondsworth detention centre, near Heathrow, have 'gone wild'. Around 10pm on 28 November, 2006, a group of detainees started a riot in Wing B after a guard switched off the TV preventing them from watching a report about Harmondsworth, and it soon spread to all 4 wings. Some detainees have reportedly been beaten up, while others were kept locked in, with fires and smoke all over the place [reports and updates]. 'Specialist officers' from prisons across the south of England were brought in to help the prison and immigration services 'contain the situation'. Everything is 'under control' now, according to the Home Office [John Reid Invokes Riechstag Fire Tactics For Detention Centre Fire]. For further information click at the Full article link above.

Several calls to protest have been made to show solidarity with those struggling inside the detention centres. On Friday, 1st of December No Borders London called for a solidarity demonstration outside London's headquarters of Kalyx, the private company that runs the detention centre. Around 80 people joined the protest [pics]. Barbed Wire Britain also called for a demonstration at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres near Heathrow airport on Sunday 3rd December, when over 80 people gathered near to the gates of the detention centres [Reports and Pics 1 | 2] London FRFI also staged a protest on Tuesday 5th December outside London's Communications House immigration reporting centre.

Related: Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre 'Not fit for Purpose' | Noborders Demo at Harmondsworth Detention Centre | Harmondsworth Detainees Protest after Death in Detention | Severe riot at Harmondsworth refugee removal centre (2004) | Hunger Strike in Colnbrook Detention Centre | Voices From Detention | Asylum Statistics: Q3 2006 | Continuing conflicts that create refugees | Why campaign against deportation | The truth behind the deportation statistics | Asylum Seekers get an early xmas present | Gay refugees abused at UK detention centre | Babar Ahmad to appeal to Lords against extradition | Singing Session at Campsfield House Detention Centre | Glasgow: 6 Kids Abducted in 2 Days.

Links: NoBorders groups in UK | National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns | Barbed-Wire Britain

detention centres: barbed-wire prisons
detention centres: barbed-wire prisons

Late on Tuesday night, detainees in Wing B of Harmondsworth were watching the 10.00pm news, where an ex-detainee was being interviewed about Anne Ower's report criticising the centre's management and poor conditions. Detainees say a guard switched off the TV, incensing the detainees and sparking major disruption throughout the centre, with doors being broken and fires lit, causing the sprinkler system to go off. Early reports said that many detainees were beaten up, others were locked up in their rooms in parts of the centre, while others were still rioting. It was very difficult to get correct information as detainees were prevented from reaching the phones. When No Borders activists managed to speak to some detainees, the latter were soon told by the security guards to “get off the phone”.

At around 2:30am, the situation was escalating, with a lot shouting and smashing going on. A detainee said wings B and C were the worst, with water everywhere in wing B after they smashed the plumbing system, while the alarm in wing C was no longer working. Detainees could not go out and the guards were nowhere to be seen, supposedly because they feared for their own safety. Police had been called but they hadn't gone in yet. the caller also said some detainees were injured.

At around 3am, many detainees were outside in the exercise yard, while those on the 3rd floor were locked in and could not get out. Smoke could be smelled and it was getting hot inside as they had no ventilation. The police and the fire brigade arrived just before 4am and said everything was “under control”. A Home Office spokesperson said a number of “specialist officers from prisons across the South of England” were deployed to “assist the Prison and Immigration Services by securing the perimeter” and that there was “absolutely no risk to the public.”

Around mid-day, communication with detainees was partly restored; the lines seemed to have being re-opened but most detainees were still not answering. A detainee in wing D said nobody was hurt in his wing but riot police were still there. Together with others, he was taken to the courtyard around midnight and spent the night there, in the cold and without any food or medication. They could not go back inside until 7 am. In wing A, a detainee said they were still all locked up in their rooms and the police were beating up people in the corridor. They had no water, no food and spent the night locked inside despite the fire and smoke. Just before noon, about 50 detainees were seen in the courtyard spelling out the words “HELP”, “SOS” and “FREEDOM” using their bed sheets.

Strangely enough, the riots this time received some attention from the mainstream media (although, of course, their reports were mostly watered downed). The BBC had a reporter on the ground and a helicopter hovering overhear, which was ordered away from the scene by the police at about 14.10 for “security reasons”. The police had their own helicopter in its place now. Later in the day, the events were the leading story on Sky News. Both channels had interviewed ex-detainee George Mwangi.

Harmondsworth Previous Protests and Background Info

The riots come a day after the chief inspector of prisons strongly criticised the centre's (mis)management, in what was described as the "poorest report ever" on any UK immigration removal centre. Earlier this year, many detainees in Harmondsworth and other detention centres, mainly in adjacent Colnbrook, went on hunger strike in protest at their inhumane treatment by security guards during the No Borders demonstration on 8 April, 2006. A few months before that, in January 2006, there was a big, organised protest by detainees following the death of Bereket Yohannes, a 26-year-old Eritrean who was found hanged in the showers of Harmondsworth. Those deemed by the management to have been the organisers of the peaceful protest were punished by being locked up in 'secure cells' and later transferred to other detention centres. In 2004, there were similar riots sparked by the death of an inmate, causing a temporary closure of the detention centre and the 'transfer' of detainees to other immigration prisons.

Run by Kaylix (former UK Detention Services owned by Sodexho), Harmondsworth is the UK's biggest detention centre. Situated near Heathrow airport in London (to make deportations easier), it opened in September 2001. The centre can hold up to 550 men, women and children (although it holds only single men at present). According to the latest Home Office figures, there were 470 detainees in Harmondsworth as of 30 September, 2006, 345 of whom were asylum seekers.

The total number of detainees incarcerated in all 10 detention centres was 2,010, of whom 1,455 were asylum seekers, i.e. detained solely under the Immigration Act powers (note the Home Office no longer include persons detained in prison in the statistics). A total of 7,390 people left detention in Q2 2006, a fall of 1% from Q1 2006 (7,490). Of the 4,360 (59% of the total) asylum detainees leaving detention, 2,610 (60%) were 'removed' from the UK, 1,465 (34%) were granted temporary admission/release and 280 (6%) were bailed.



Another inside view

01.12.2006 15:45

My partner was transferred from Colnbrook to Harmondsworth late on sunday evening. He did not want to go there. I normally call him at 10 pm each night. I called him at about 10:30 pm, another detainee answered and said not here, not here. I was worried incase something had happened to him.
I continued to call, at 11:30 another voice answered and again said " no here all outside". I could hear alarms sounding and people shouting i wondered what was going on. I called Harmondsworth and got through to the switchboard, i got told that the phones and computers were down and that they were waiting for engineers to come and fix it and that i should call back in the morning. I really thought there was some kind of electrical fault and i accepted this.
At 6 am my parnter called me and told me that there had been a big riot and everywhere was wrecked, he told me that people had seen the 10 o clock news and seen an ex detainee, the officers tried to turn it off, so they started going beserk. He said he would call me as soon as he could because he thought no one could stay there.

I started receiving reports of what had happened on the news and i kept trying Harmondsworth throoughout Wednesday. No news whatsoever, they said immigration were transferring thre detainees and everyone would be out of there by thursday morning and to cal back then.

I called first thing Thursday morning to ask the whereabouts of my partner. I got told that he was ok and that he was still being held at Harmondsworth and to call back at lunchtime. I did so he was still there. I called again at 6.30 pm and got told that he had been transfered to Colnbrook, I was so releived, but i still wanted to hear his voice.

At 7pm i finally got this call. He told me he was ok and that he was back in Colnbrook, not to worry he would call me when he got a room etc.

I eventually got to speak to him at around 10:00 pm thursday evening. He told me that he and 3 others were locked in a room. They were given no food,water,warm blankets or toilet facilities until lunchtime on Thursday. Their last meal had been Tuesday evening!! They were made to sleep on wet and cold beds and to share. It is reported that up to 8 people were locked in a 2 bed space room, there was no ventilation and they were all extremely scared and disturbed.

Alot of the detainees are now suffering from trauma on top of what they have previously seen but no compassion is given to this. What the H O put them through is disgraceful, its a breach of human rights, in a way they were tortured by the officals at Harmondsworth in many ways: the deprivation of food, water, toilet facilities.

Is any sort of compensation going to be sought to these innocent individuals that got caught in the crossfire? Their compensation will be a ticket to their death, torture or persecution that they fled long ago. Great Britain ? What is great about it, it makes me ashamed to be British. If we treated animals like this we would go to prison for it so what is the difference with human lives ? Where have priorities gone ?

Jo Bean
mail e-mail:

2 corrections

03.12.2006 18:25

How did George ' blame fellow detainees?' He blamed the bullying Kalyx staff !!!

Harmondsworth holds only single men at present, and the BWB website has not been updated since time immemorial.


Corrections Done

04.12.2006 14:32

Thanks to Chiara for pointing that out and we do apologise from Mr Mwangi for mis-quoting him. Stuff happens!


Kalyx to pay Home Office £5 million for 'Contractual failures' at Harmondsworth

10.12.2006 12:12

Kalyx, the private company running Harmondsworth detention centre, at which hundreds of asylum seekers rioted last month, is to be forced to pay the government more than £5m for a series of 'performance failures'.

one of noborders


06.01.2007 22:15

11 people were arrested on 29.11.06 on suspicion of violent disorder. They have all been released on bail until the end of January pending further investigation by the Met's Specialist Crime Directorate. There are no charges at present.

one of noborders

Parliamentary Answers: Harmondsworth

13.01.2007 12:29

Mr. Clegg: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many immigration detainees held other than at Harmondsworth and assessed as (a) low, (b) medium and (c) high risk were bailed as a result of the disturbances at Harmondsworth on 30 November; and with how many the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has now lost contact. [109602]

John Reid: Following the Harmondsworth disturbances a relocation of low risk detainees within the detention estate took place and a total of fifty non-Harmondsworth detainees were granted bail after appropriate assessment. No breaches of reporting conditions have been advised to date.

Mr. Clegg: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the private contractor running Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre is financially liable for (a) damage caused to the facility in the disturbances on 29 November and (b) costs incurred by the Home Office in bringing the disturbances under control. [109609]

John Reid: Harmondsworth IRC is fully insured. Harmondsworth Detention Services Ltd. which operates the Centre under contract with the Secretary of State for the Home Department is liable for a share of the policy deductible. The Secretary of State is considering any potential liabilities of the Contractor and the insurers in relation to the costs of bringing the disturbance under control.

Mr. Clegg: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many staff were on duty at Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre on (a) 28 and (b) 29 November; and how many (i) Home Office and (ii) police staff were used to bring the disturbances under control. [109610]

John Reid: The number of contractor staff on duty between 19:30 on 28 November and 06:00 on 29 November was 76. The number of Immigration Service staff on duty at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre on 28 November was seven and on the 29 November it was nine.

A total of 224 HM Prison Service staff were deployed to bring the disturbance under control and a number of Metropolitan Police officers were involved in both securing the perimeter of the building and escorting detainees from the centre once the disturbance was brought under control.

- Homepage:


27.01.2007 00:42

The 11 detainees charged at the time and released on police bail are due to report to a police station on the 1st of February, where they may be bailed again and released (back into the detention estate) or charged, in which case they will be detained in police cells until they appear in court.

one of noborders

Official investigation into the disturbances at Harmondsworth and Campsfield

25.07.2007 14:38

Following the disturbance at Campsfield House IRC on 14 March, 2007, Robert Whalley CB was asked to extend his investigation into the Harmondsworth disturbance on 28-29 November, 2006, to that establishment as well. The full report is attached herewith.

Mr Whalley said:
"The Harmondsworth and Campsfield House disturbances were very different, both in causation and in how they unfolded. Both occurred at a time when recent population pressures, falling heavily on vulnerable fabric in a hardpressed detention estate, were accompanied by dislocation in casework handling, especially in the case of Foreign National Prisoners, which caused a build up of latent tensions."

"It did not take much to trigger these events. When they started, they soon escalated, despite best efforts to prevent this happening. The underlying causes are still there and, without any changes, the same thing could happen again at either establishment."



Display the following 2 comments

  1. transmitter — Guardian's new article on Harmondsworth
  2. A few Questions — D.Tainee