A debate about the way detainees should be treated at immigration removal centres has been in the public eye for quite some time. Over the past few years, several charities and activists have stepped up their efforts to bring potential abuses to public scrutiny, aimed at preventing such activities from happening and holding those responsible to account. Various aspects of the debate have included failure by some to make a distinction between an immigration detainee and a criminal and to appreciate the fact that some immigration detainees may be vulnerable and might have come from abusive backgrounds. Access to legal advice is another issue, with many detainees at removal centres unable to get the advice they need in a proper and timely manner. Sometimes this leads to hasty deportations, putting the lives of vulnerable asylum seekers at risk. And despite all the efforts made to tackle these issues, allegations of mistreatment keep coming to light, prompting further public outcry over abuses uncovered.
The Home Office is under fire yet again, following revelations exposed in the footage of undercover journalists at Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick. An undercover journalist from BBC Panorama spent about a month in the removal centre, posing as an employee, before agreeing to wear a hidden camera to record the abuse. The exposed incidents included a detainee being mocked over their mental state and attempted suicide, a security guard admitting to assaulting a detainee, and other instances of ill-treatment and improper conduct. The Home Office contracts out the operation of the removal centre in question to a private security firm, G4S. It is understood that there are currently more than 500 detainees being held at the facility, with time in detention ranging among them from a few days to many months. It is lamentable that, according to the undercover investigation, no effort was made by the authorities to segregate those who were in detention for purely immigration matters from those who had been convicted of criminal offences and were awaiting deportation.
Last week, the chairman of parliament’s Home Affairs Committee Yvette Cooper accused Peter Neden, who was summoned before the committee over the revelations as a regional head of the firm running Brook House removal centre, of failing to have a system in place that enabled the reporting of incidents of mistreatment so that senior management would be aware of them and prevent them from happening. She challenged the management of the operating firm, G4S, over failings in providing adequate safeguards against such abuse, stating that there was clearly a “system failure to allow these things to happen in the first place”. Previous failings by the same firm were exposed over a year ago by journalists at a young offender institution run by G4S. Back then, the upshot was that the contract to run that centre was taken back from the firm by the Ministry of Justice.
Another instance of the Home Office’s being too hasty in making decisions to deport involved a botched deportation of Samim Bigzad, a failed asylum seeker from Afghanistan. There was an initial attempt to deport him back in August, but that failed following an unusual intervention by the pilot, who refused to take off with the passenger in question on board. There is a degree of controversy associated with the view held by the Home Office that deportations to the Afghan capital Kabul are considered to be safe, despite the fact that the Foreign Office advises British citizens against “all but essential” travel to the city. A subsequent attempt to deport the same person was made a few weeks later. His lawyers tried to challenge this in court. He had already arrived in Turkey to be transferred to a connecting flight to Kabul, at which point there was an order issued by the High Court in the UK that he could not be removed from the UK until legal proceedings in relation to him had been concluded. Instead of sending him back to the UK, the Home Office decided to proceed with the original plan to send him to Kabul. This move was later described by one of the judges at further hearings as “prima facie contempt of court”. The subsequent legal battle spanned three days and involved three further hearings, at which the Home Office was seeking to set aside the orders made by the High Court. At the final hearing it was held that the person in question should be returned to the UK, and the Home Office had to comply.
It remains to be seen whether the instances described above, and those that remain unreported in the public domain, would prompt the officials to introduce better safeguards to prevent such cases of ill-treatment and botched practices from happening.
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