This week – on Thursday June 6th – the world’s largest security firm G4S, will hold its annual general meeting in the City of London. A large coalition of groups, including NCADC, has called for a demonstration to be held outside the event, in protest of G4S’s varying and widespread human rights abuses.
This article, by NCADC volunteer Sarah McCarthy, is the third and final piece in a series about G4S’s brutal role in the “asylum market” here in the UK.
The first discussed their bungling of contracts to house asylum seekers, the second outlined the appalling conditions and treatment of detainees at their detention centres, and this one will review the reasons why G4S lost their contract to “escort” (i.e. violently restrain) those being deported from the UK.
While this series focuses on G4S, it is also intended to illustrate the wider points of the dangers of the cost-cutting outsourcing model, of hiring firms in the business of providing mercenaries to carry out humanitarian functions, and of immigration policies which criminalise people simply for moving their home across a border.
On the 12th of October 2011, Jimmy Mubenga was pronounced dead by paramedics on a plane at Heathrow Airport. He had been forcibly restrained by G4S security guards, with his head pushed down into his lap and his hands cuffed behind him. Passengers and crew say that he pleaded for help over fifty times; crying out that he couldn’t breathe before losing consciousness. Mubenga, a father of five young children, was being removed to Angola. The position that he was forced into is colloquially known amongst G4S guards as the “carpet karaoke”, because it compels people resisting their deportation to shout down towards the floor.
Following the death of Mubenga, a host of evidence regarding G4S’s disturbing negligence emerged. Information from four whistleblowers who testified before parliament, transcripts from the police questioning of the guards who restrained Mubenga, and evidence given at the Coroner’s Inquest reveal a clear responsibility on the part of G4S for the brutalisation of those in their custody.
Lack of Training
At the Coroner’s Inquest into Mubenga’s death, it was revealed that G4S had failed to provide adequate training to the security guards responsible for “restraining” deportees. Stuart Tribelnig, the senior detainee custody officer for the case, stated that trainee deportation officers were not taught any “control and restraint” techniques suitable for small spaces, such as planes. He claimed that he had asked the security firm to provide them with additional training but his requests were repeatedly ignored. Tribelnig became a detainee custody officer after a four-week training course in 2007.
This is not the first or the only time that G4S has been accused of under-training their security guards. A leaked training video from 2004 revealed a disturbing number of errors in how guards were being instructed to “control” a person resisting their deportation. One of the model removals shows guards dragging a man backwards up a plane stairs and screaming at him to “shut up”. The evidence of whistleblowers referred to several cases of guards being allowed to take part in removal flights without having undertaken full “control and restraint” training.
Incentivising Deportations “By Any Means Necessary”
Deportees being taken away on commercial flights often loudly resist in the hope that the pilot, crew and/or passengers will refuse to be part of somebody’s forced and violent removal. Tribelnig’s testimony made it clear that G4S officers are incentivised to ensure that deportations are completed, regardless of the level of resistance from the person being removed. The Guardian stated that this claim was independently confirmed by several former guards:
The guards were desperate to avoid an aborted flight because their pay would be cut […] G4S introduced a payment structure for guards that meant they were paid far less if long-haul flights were aborted. They argue the result was a built-in incentive for guards to forcefully silence deportees to ensure aircraft took off.
In a police interview shortly after Mubenga’s death, Tribelnig stated: “I don’t know how high up it goes. I just know you have to get the job away so the boys get paid and you get paid.”
This kind of attitude reflects the role of G4S in this process; they are hired to carry out the Home Office’s dirty work. These removals are the brutal reality of a flawed asylum system which dictates that people be removed from the country like cargo. G4S is the muscle behind the Government’s immigration policies which criminalise migrants and ascribe different levels of humanity to people based on their nationality.
Ignoring Widespread Complaints
Mubenga’s death was not the result of a few rogue guards acting against orders; G4S management were repeatedly warned about the dangers of the technique used. One guard wrote to his manager that the use of this technique needed to stop “before there was a serious positional asphyxiation incident resulting in a detainee’s death.” Another wrote a letter to his seniors stating that some guards were “playing Russian roulette with detainees’ lives.”
The whistleblowers’ documents outline how a litany of complaints was ignored over several years. Managers sought to “discredit, harass, bully and on occasions dismiss” staff who spoke out. The whistleblowers accused G4S managers of “presiding over a “macho” corporate culture that ostracised staff who showed compassion towards detainees or questioned the safety of their treatment.”
Profit over Justice
Housing, detention, deportations, electronic monitoring, prisons, sections of the police – the UK immigration and justice systems are becoming increasingly privatised. Recent changes to legal aid have brought to the fore serious concerns about this process. Michael Turner, head of the Criminal Bar Association said the new system will lead to companies like G4S and Tesco competing to take over all the legal aid criminal law work in a given area. He said:
They will turn around to the solicitors and the Bar and say ‘We have the contracts, you come and work for us for £25,000 a year’. Meanwhile they will skim off cast profits, funded by the taxpayer.
Furthermore he said, the system will put lawyers under pressure not to take up cases that challenge the authorities as “it will be in the interests of their employers to make sure the Government still likes them when the contract is renewed” – I’m finding it hard to resist repeatedly saying ‘Kafkaesque’ and ‘Orwellian’ here. We’re moving towards a system where the same company could represent a person in court, house them while the decision is being made, and then profit from a negative decision by removing them from the country. To say a conflict of interest may arise here would be the understatement of the year.
Simply put, we cannot entrust private companies with justice. G4S is a company that hires prisoners out for slave labour, is complicit in the torture of Palestinian children, trains soldiers for duty, makes millions from the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, is profiting from the robbing of oil in Iraq, and on and on – they will hire out their extensive “security experience” to anyone with enough money. Like all private companies their bottom line is profit and the bosses with multi-million contracts aren’t going to let pesky ethical considerations get in the way. The Government claims that outsourcing services increases “competitiveness” and saves the taxpayer money; in reality, companies like Reliance, Serco and G4S are just competing over which can abuse people more.
This Thursday, G4S are having their annual general meeting in London. A protest has been called for 1pm, outside it at Salters’ Hall, 4 Fore Street, London EC2Y 5DE (all details here). I would urge any person who believes in social justice and treating those who migrate here with decency and respect, to come along and show G4S that we won’t stand idly by while they commit their atrocities all over the world!
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