Campaign groups calling for a public inquiry into the treatment of immigration detainees have revealed that thirty-five cases of alleged assault have been referred to solicitors.
The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF), and the Campaign To Stop Arbitrary Detentions at Yarl’s Wood (SADY) have revealed details of over thirty-five cases referred to four solicitors’ firms (Birnberg Peirce & Co, Hickman & Rose, Christian Khan, Harrison Bundey). Most of the cases involve allegations of abuse at the airport or in transit to the airport. In at least six of the thirty-five cases, the detainee was eventually removed. Two female victims of these ‘successful’ removals say they needed hospital treatment in their country of origin, as a result of injuries sustained in the deportation process.
At a press conference held outside the Home Office on the day after the BBC broadcast Asylum Undercover (a disturbing television programme showing detention custody officers abusing detainees and boasting about assaults) NCADC, CARF and SADY called for a full public inquiry into the conditions of immigration detention in the UK. The Asylum Undercover investigation centred on Oakington Reception Centre and ‘in-country escorting’ of detainees, exposing the abuse of asylum seekers behind the closed doors of the immigration ‘detention estate’. In one of the most shocking parts of the programme, a custody officer described ‘taping up’ the skirt of an obviously scared female asylum seeker who was defecating through fear during her deportation. (The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that refusal to allow a detainee who has soiled herself to change her clothes is inhuman and degrading treatment)
NCADC, CARF and SADY highlighted their concern that the allegations so far documented were only ‘the tip of the iceberg’. (The thirty-five cases detailed only come to light because they were reported to visitors from voluntary groups.) They also expressed concern that some police forces were unwilling to investigate allegations of abuse properly. In one case where the private company operating the detention centre had agreed to compensate a victim of abuse, the police had not followed up the complaint with arrests.
Global Solutions Ltd (GSL), formerly Group 4, which runs Oakington Reception Centre, commented in a press release after the programme that there was ‘shock and dismay throughout our company at the scenes of racist and abusive language and behaviour by some staff at Oakington detention centre and in-country escorting’. The company said it was now carrying out a full investigation with the assistance of a team of former senior police officers. It was also conducting a review of management and supervisory systems, recruitment, vetting, training and monitoring. ‘If there are systemic or individual failings, they will be addressed,’ it stated. ‘Furthermore, if these investigations reveal that any offence has been committed by any of our staff, the police will be notified.’
GSL and Group 4 have come under the spot-light before. In 1998, during the trial of nine men following a disturbance, detention officers at Campsfield (then run by Group 4) were found to have lied and destroyed property at the centre and then blamed detainees. Group 4 also ran Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre, Bedford, which, in February 2002, was burnt down during a disturbance triggered by the restraint of a Nigerian female detainee. And, in December 2003, Yarl’s Wood was the subject of a Daily Mirror report which exposed racism and abuse at the centre.
In the subsequent inquiry into the Daily Mirror allegations, Prisons Ombudsman Stephen Shaw said ‘these were startling and hugely worrying allegations. If true, they would have called into question not just the management of Yarl’s Wood … but the fitness of the contractor (GSL) to run any removal centre … in this country’. He found that most of the things alleged in the article had happened, but decided that there was ‘not a culture of abuse, racism and violence’. However he did recommend that the Home Office investigate the allegations about mistreatment of detainees.
Emma Ginn, of NCADC, told IRR News: ‘Stephen Shaw is now conducting a third inquiry into a GSL run removal/reception centre. When will the government learn? GSL appears to have retained its contracts to run Yarl’s Wood, Tinsley House, Campsfield House, and Oakington. It was awarded a huge contract, of undisclosed value, to design, build and manage a 750-bed Accommodation Centre at Bicester, just thirty days after publication of the inquiry into the Mirror allegations. GSL was also a partner in the design and build of Yarl’s Wood, which was described in the Prison Ombudsman inquiry into the fire, as “astonishingly flimsy” and “not fit for the purpose”. This does not fill us with great confidence.’