Harmondsworth detention centre

An inspection report published today reveals the dark, unacceptable nature of immigration detention in the UK.

Harmondsworth is Europe’s largest immigration detention centre, with a capacity to hold up to 676 people for the purposes of immigration administration and enforcement. A new inspection report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons has found  “considerable failings” in safety and respect for detainees, people being held for excessively long periods, and in contravention to the detention rules that are supposed to protect vulnerable people, including survivors of torture. The Inspectors found that large numbers of men with mental health problems were being held in prison-like conditions. During the previous six months, 55 incidents of self-harm were recorded and 218 men were identified as at risk of suicide or self-harm. In some cases, support was not provided promptly enough: the Inspection team describes an occasion where they requested a very distressed detained person to be placed on suicide-watch but no support was provided until an hour later when the person was already making a noose.

Worryingly, in nearly all of a sample of cases, the Home Office accepted evidence that detainees had been tortured, but maintained detention regardless. “Insufficient attention was given to post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems.”

There were “considerable failings” in safety and respect for detainees. Nearly a third of the population was considered by the Home Office to be vulnerable under its at risk in detention policy. Detainees, many identified as vulnerable, were not being adequately safeguarded. Mental health needs were often not met. Detainees were subject to some disproportionate security restrictions and living conditions were below decent standards. Inspectors highlighted the security regime. Two-thirds of people detained felt unsafe.

“Some aspects of the security regime would have been disproportionate in a prison and were not acceptable in an IRC. In 2013, we identified the disgraceful treatment of an ill and elderly man who was kept in handcuffs as he died in hospital. “

The continuing lack of a time limit on detention meant that some men had been held for excessively long periods. The continuing lack of a time limit on detention meant that some men had been held for excessively long periods: “23 men had been detained for over a year and one man had been held for over 4.5 years, which is unacceptable.” Eiri Ohtani, Project Director of the Detention Forum said: “This is not the first time that Inspectors have slammed the UK government’s policy of indefinite detention without a time limit and it is very unlikely to be the last. They recommended a strict time limit on detention after their inspection at Yarl’s Wood last year, yet there is no sign that the government is prepared to introduce the necessary change. ” “2017 was the deadliest year in the history of immigration detention with so many deaths: we fear nothing has been done to address this mounting crisis of harm in immigration detention. We urge the Home Office to promptly and proactively set out its plan to significantly reduce the immigration detention now, starting with a 28 day time limit, ending locking up of vulnerable people and implementation of a wider range of community-based alternatives to detention.”

Read the Inspection report press release here, the full report here, the Detention Forum statement here, and a Guardian article here.