Immigration detention: a structure of abuse


Three stories in the press over the weekend demonstrate the abusive nature of immigration detention, for all involved.

In The New Statesman, BID trustee Katharine Sacks-Jones writes of the palpable desperation of detention:

Recent reports of sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood shine a small spotlight on the otherwise invisible world of immigration detention. They detail how guards preyed on isolated women, subjecting them to unwanted advances, using their positions of power to coerce them into sexual acts. Shocking yes. But sadly not much of a surprise to people who work with immigration detainees.

As a trustee of a small charity, Bail for Immigration Detainees, I visited Yarl’s Wood late last year. The desperation was palpable. One of the women I met had heavily bandaged wrists. She was on 24-hour suicide watch after one failed attempt to take her own life. She, like others I spoke to, was desperate to get out of what is little more than a prison. With 30,000 people detained per year, these women are far from rare.

Many people in detention – both men and women – are incredibly vulnerable. They are often fleeing violence and persecution. About half have claimed asylum. Some have been the victims of torture and rape. To have faced and survived such trauma, to have undertaken a difficult journey to get away, to have left behind loved ones and the world that you know, to then reach supposed safety only to be locked up is a cruel irony. And to be detained with no release date and no time-limit must be utterly hopeless.

It is little surprise that detention is incredibly damaging. Self-harm and detention go hand in hand, with studies suggesting there are higher levels of suicide and self-harm amongst detained immigrants than amongst the prison population. The impacts on physical and mental ill health are well-documented – severe distress and depression as a result of detention are common.

Meanwhile G4S, one of the main companies contracted to run detention centres, came once again under the spotlight.  The Guardian reported that on a case now referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, in which three G4S immigration centre officials were involved in forgery.

In an excoriating judgment which has been referred … Mr Justice Mostyn said G4S employees … were involved in “corruptly redacting” an official certificate, an action which helped bolster the case against an immigrant who was being deported from the UK.

The asylum seeker, who is not allowed to be named for legal reasons, claimed he had been tortured and beaten with a heated metal rod on arrival at his country of origin after UK officials refused to remove paperwork from his luggage which identified him with anti-government organisations there.

Mostyn found that after his room at Brook House was cleared of belongings, a certificate was drawn up by officials making reference to “various paperwork”.

But during court proceedings, centre staff submitted a second “doctored” certificate, which scrubbed all mention of the paperwork.

“The conduct of the secretary of state’s agents in falsifying the room clearance certificate is corrupt and truly shocking,” Justice Mostyn said in his judgment Thursday.

This is G4S, under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for allegations of criminally overcharging taxpayers.  This is G4S on whom there is a freeze of new government contracts while the investigation takes place.  This is G4S, in discussion with the Home Office to expand capacity by 30% at Brook House detention centre, despite this freeze.


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