2017: the deadliest year in immigration detention 

2017: the deadliest year in immigration detention 


Written by: Harmit Athwal

This year six men have died in immigration detention centres — the deadliest year since the IRR began recording deaths in immigration detention.

Placard detailing the names of those that have died in immigration detention
Placard detailing the names of those that have died in immigration detention

The most recent death occurred, on 19 November, when 27-year-old Arim Bakar, an Iraqi man was found dead at the Prison Service-run Morton Hall, where two others have died this year. Detainees at the centre told the Guardian, that the Bakar had been on suicide watch and guards were supposed to be checking on him every thirty minutes.

Conditions in immigration detention were recently highlighted by the BBC’s Panorama, in Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets, an exposé on the G4S-run Brook House[1] near Gatwick airport. As a result six G4S staff have been quietly sacked (after only initially being suspended). The Home Affairs Committee is holding its own inquiry and G4S has commissioned an independent investigation. 

However, we have seen such inquiries and investigations before — after Nick Sommerlad’s exposé on Yarl’s Wood in the Mirror in December 2003[2], an investigation was carried out by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), Stephen Shaw. And in 2005, another BBC programme, Detention Undercover: The Real Story was followed by another inquiry, again by the PPO Stephen Shaw.[3] But nothing much changes. People are still dying and self-harming at alarming rates in immigration detention. Investigations expose the horror of immigration detention but little seems to change — other than the private companies operating the detention centres. The same few companies are involved — a merry-go-round of G4S, Serco, the Geo Group UK Ltd, Mitie and Tascor. It should also be noted though, that three of the six deaths that have occurred this year took place in Morton Hall — which is operated by the Prison Service.

Of the six men who have died this year, two remain unnamed. The Home Office refuses to identify those who have died — thus preventing campaigners and activists from finding out further information on such deaths or making contact with the families of those who have died.

There have been thirty-four deaths in immigration removal centres since 1989; three women and the rest men. Harmondsworth detention centre accounts for nine deaths; five people have died at Colnbrook and Morton Hall; three at Yarl’s Wood and the Verne and two each at Campsfield, Dungavel and Haslar. One person has died at each of the detention centres Dover and Oakington (now closed) and Pennine House (a short-term holding facility).

2017: six deaths in immigration detention

  • 19/11/17 Arim Bakar: A 27-year-old Iraqi man found dead at Morton Hall in an apparent suicide.
  • 03/10/17 Carrington Spencer: A 38-year-old Jamaican man died in hospital after being detained at Morton Hall.
  • 19/09/17 Unnamed Chinese man: Found dead in Dungavel detention centre in Scotland which is operated by the GEO Group UK Ltd. 
  • 07/09/17 Unnamed Polish man: A 28-year-old Polish man, found at Harmondsworth (run by Mitie) in west London with self-inflicted injuries on 3 September and died four days later in hospital.
  • 09/04/17 Branko Zdravkovic: A 43-year-old man, found hanged at the Verne in Portland, Dorset (run by the Prison Service). According to the Daily Echo, Zdravkovic was meant to be on ‘enhanced observation’ as he was at risk of self-harm.
  • 11/01/17 Lukasz Debowski: A 27-year-old Polish man, found hanged in Morton Hall IRC in Lincolnshire on the day his son was born. The Glasgow Unity Centre reported that he had been refused bail before Christmas as there was no surety available and his heavily pregnant girlfriend had been unable to attend the hearing.

Related links

IRR News: Deaths in immigration detention: 1989-2017

Read about deaths in immigration detention in the IRR’s report Dying for Justice 

[1] Brook House is incidentally where Jimmy Mubenga was held prior to the attempted deportation which resulted in his death on board a BA airplane at Heathrow in October 2010 after being restrained by three G4S guards. [2] Investigation into Allegations of Racism, Abuse and Violence at Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, Stephen Shaw, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, (March 2004). [3] Inquiry into allegations of racism and mistreatment of detainees at Oakington immigration reception centre and while under escort, Stephen Shaw, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, (July 2005).

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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