On 30 October, a man was found dead at Harmondsworth removal centre in west London.
The deceased has been named as 31-year-old Prince Kwabena Fosu from Ghana. The Home Office released a one-sentence statement and refused to answer any questions: ‘This death is being investigated so it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage. We will work with the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman during the investigation.’ A post mortem has found no evidence of violence, restraint or suicide.
However, Ghanaian detainees put out a statement following the death that made a number of serious allegations about what happened to Prince Ofosu and about the poor treatment of others at the centre. They allege that guards at the centre restrained Prince while in the ‘block’ (segregation unit) and that he had been held in his cell without heating and naked. (Read the statement in full here.)
A week after the death, campaigners held a ‘noise’ protest outside the centre, making as much sound as possible with megaphones, whistles and horns, so that detainees in the centre could hear them. According to a report on Indymedia ‘Detainees piled up at the windows, fists were waving and banging at the impermeable glass. Our cries of “freedom, azadi, hurriya, liberte!” were echoed on the inside as call-and-response chants erupted into a wave of whistles and chanting across the blocks. Detainees flooded the exercise yard and chanted some more until they were moved by guards.’
GEO Group Limited – another operator
Harmondsworth is managed by the GEO Group Limited which also runs the Dungavel centre in Scotland and has the contract for prison escorting and custody services in Wales and England (except London and the East of England). Its website claims it to be ‘one of the leading private custodial and related services companies in the world with 60 custodial facilities located in Europe, America, Australia, and South Africa under management. Our operations make us the largest group operating internationally in the field of custody, care and control.’
In May 2012, staff at the centre won awards in three categories at the UK Border Agency’s first supplier awards ‘designed to recognise the significant contribution made by front-line staff to its detention and escorting business’. But this is not the first time that detainees have complained about the treatment they receive from some of its employees. Recently, in north America, 428 detainees (over half those) held at the Broward Transitional Center run by GEO Inc., published a letter demanding that John Morton the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ‘initiate an investigation on the policies and procedures being followed by ICE, Border Patrol, local police and other enforcement agencies involved in the detention, prosecution and removal of immigrants in South Florida and also on The GEO Group Inc.’ (Read the letter: ‘428 Detainees Sign Letter From Detention Demanding Review of Broward’.)
Other such deaths involving Harmondsworth
It is also of concern that six other people have died at Harmondsworth since 1989:
- Bereket Yohannes (19/1/06): A 26-year-old Eritrean asylum seeker was found hanged in a shower block at Harmondsworth. An inquest in March 2007 was told how he had previously tried to take his own life while he was held at Dover removal centre a month prior to his death. It found that he took his own life.
- Sergey Baranyuk (19/7/04): A 31-year-old Ukrainian asylum seeker was found hanged in Harmondsworth. His death sparked a night of disturbances and led to all the detainees being transferred to prisons and other detention centres. An inquest heard that Sergey arrived in the UK in May 2004 and claimed asylum, his claim was ‘fast-tracked’ and he was taken to Oakington. He then withdrew his asylum claim and agreed to voluntary removal. He was then moved to Harmondsworth where he was essentially lost in the system until he took his own life. On the day he was recorded on CCTV at 10.50am heading towards a shower room. His body was not found until 7.50pm, nine hours after he was last seen alive. The inquest jury in 2006 delivered a unanimous verdict that Sergey Baranyuk ‘took his own life’. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Sergey Baranyuk forgotten at Harmondsworth’)
- Olga Blaskevica (7/5/03): A 29-year-old Latvian woman was murdered by her partner, Olegs Pavlos in the family holding area at Harmondsworth just hours before the pair were due to be deported from Britain. In June 2004, Pavlos denied murder but admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was found to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
- Robertas Grabys (24/1/00): A 49-year-old Lithuanian asylum seeker was found hanged in Harmondsworth on the day he was due to be deported. A report into his death criticised the private company that was in charge of Harmondsworth at the time (Burns International). In April 2003, an internal Home Office inquiry found that Burns International did not have a formal policy to prevent suicides and that there was insufficient care. An inquest recorded an open verdict.
- Kimpua Nsimba (15/6/90): A 24-year-old Zairean asylum seeker was found hanged in Harmondsworth where no one had spoken to him in over four days. An inquest recorded a suicide verdict.
- Siho Iyugiven (5/10/89): A 27-year-old Kurdish refugee died from burns at Harmondsworth where he had been detained pending removal after political asylum was refused. He and his cellmate went on hunger strike, barricaded themselves in and set bedding alight as a protest. Smoke detectors were not working, few fire extinguishers worked and there were no sprinklers. An inquest recorded a misadventure verdict.
Three more asylum seekers died shortly after being held at Harmondsworth, and two of these deaths at Colnbrook in July last year occurred soon after the men were transferred from Harmondsworth where the care they received has been called into question:
- Brian Dalrymple (31/7/11): A 31-year-old American with significant health problems died in Colnbrook (next door to Harmondsworth) a few days after being moved. The treatment that he received while he was held at Harmondsworth will be examined at the inquest in to his death in 2013.
- Muhammad Shukat (2/7/12): A 47-year-old Pakistani man died after suffering a heart attack in Colnbrook. In May 2012, an inquest jury recorded a highly critical verdict that found that neglect contributed to his death. According to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) report into his death, he was transferred from Brook House (near Gatwick) to Harmondsworth on 26 May. He was held at Harmondsworth for nearly a month, during which time he withdrew his claim for asylum and had asked for assisted voluntary return. He arrived at Colnbrook on 29 June (at 1am in the morning) and died just a few days later. While he was held at Harmondsworth he made a complaint about the healthcare at the centre that was not followed up, staff at the healthcare unit also failed to obtain his medical records despite him signing a release form. These records ‘could have provided significant information that could have assisted healthcare staff [at Colnbrook] on the morning he died.’ The PPO made a number of recommendations following its investigation into Muhammad Shukat’s care at Harmondsworth, in relation to healthcare and the complaints process at Harmondsworth (numerous other recommendations were made in relation to the care that he received at Colnbrook too).
- Tran Quang Tung (27/7/04): A 35-year-old Vietnamese asylum seeker was found hanged in Dungavel in Scotland days after being transferred with fifty-nine others from Harmondsworth after the disturbance in July 2004 that erupted after the death of Sergey Baranyuk.
IRR report documenting the deaths of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants: Driven to Desperate Measures: 2006-2010 (pdf file, 432kb)
IRR report documenting the deaths of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants: Driven to Desperate Measures: 1989-2006 (pdf file, 404kb)