Asylum seekers ‘held’ in unsuitable conditions

Asylum seekers ‘held’ in unsuitable conditions


Written by: Harmit Athwal

Recent unannounced inspections of centres used to hold asylum seekers in transit to detention centres and to ports for deportation have found that no centre meets the minimum requirements in relation to child protection.

Officials carried out their first (unannounced) inspections into ‘holding’ centres for asylum seekers between June and October 2004. The holding centres, all run by private company GSL Ltd, (formerly Group 4) were: Communications House (Old Street, London), Lunar House (Croydon), Electric House (Croydon) and Dallas Court (Manchester).

The centres are all non-residential and attached to reporting centres which hold asylum seekers who have come to make a claim, report to immigration officers, or who have been picked up in ‘enforcement operations’. Asylum seekers are then moved to detention centres in the immigration estate or ‘to ports for removal’.

The recently published report entitled Report on the unannounced inspections of four short-term holding facilities: Communications House, London; Lunar House, Croydon; Electric House, Croydon and Dallas Court, Manchester found that:

  • There was little external supervision or regular monitoring of the centres;
  • Inadequate, or no, access to telephones (to inform relatives, friends, legal representatives of detention);
  • No centre had child protection policies;
  • Training in self-harm and suicide prevention was inadequate;
  • No centre had approved fire or health and safety policies or procedures;
  • There was too little for detainees to do, or read.
  • There were no arrangements for detainees to arrange to recover or dispose of their property, (aggravated by their inability to communicate by telephone).

These are ‘deficiencies that were common to all the centres.

Worrying findings

The report states that ‘all four holding centres had inadequate provision for childcare and child protection. None had a child protection policy in place, and staff likely to be in contact with children had not undergone enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.’ At Lunar House the inspection team reported that they ‘spoke to one woman detainee with a two-year-old child during the mid-afternoon. She and the child had been in other areas of the building since 8am that morning. Neither she nor her child had been offered anything to eat during that time and had to wait for relocation to a residential centre that evening.’ They found that this was ‘unacceptable’.

At Dallas Court, the team found that ‘a weekend shift recently complained when they discovered a young woman in the holding room who had miscarried a few days previously. She had been collected from a hospital following psychiatric referral, had not eaten for three days and had to be helped to and from the van. She was subject to a live F2052SH self-harm monitoring form because she kept asking for her baby and said she wanted to die. Having been delivered to the holding room in the morning, she was not due to be collected by another vehicle until more than six hours later.’

For the first time it emerged that other private contractors (unnamed in this report) are being used to move asylum seekers – though GSL Ltd remains responsible for the four holding centres inspected here.

The inspection teams also found a worrying ‘absence of operational or independent oversight, compared to other immigration detention facilities. There was no Independent Monitoring Board, and no on-site monitor to provide daily oversight of service provision, as there is in immigration removal centres (IRCs). Senior Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) staff visited only occasionally, and, with the exception of Dallas Court, had little involvement with the centres.’

Recommendations include:

  • All centres should have documented and approved fire and health and safety policies and procedures.
  • All centres should have a comprehensive child protection policy agreed with the local Area Child Protection Committee (ACPC). Staff in contact with children should receive appropriate training and all staff should undergo enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.
  • Custody records of those held under the authority of IND should record all time spent in successive places of detention, including police cells.
  • Written reasons for detention should be provided in a language the detainee can understand.
  • Custodial staff should receive training in suicide and self-harm prevention and adequate policies and procedures should be in place.
  • Detainees should either be provided with adequate telephone facilities, including a free phone call on arrival, or be able to use mobile phones to contact families and advisers and sort out practical problems.
  • Holding rooms should contain newspapers, books, notices and other reading material in different languages, including basic information on the facility, legal assistance and process, fire/health and safety procedures, anti-bullying and anti-racism policies.
  • Arrangements should be in place to allow detainees to recover or arrange for the disposal of their property and detainees should be informed of this.

Related links

Full text of the Report on the unannounced inspections of four short-term holding facilities (pdf file, 312kb)

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales

National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns

Barbed Wire Britain

Download a copy of Report on the unannounced inspections of four short-term holding facilities: Communications House, London; Lunar House, Croydon; Electric House, Croydon and Dallas Court, Manchester from the web link above.

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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