Friday, 12 March 2010

Highlighting and resisting abuse in detention centres

Examining claims of systematic abuse in detention centres and throughout the deportation process, a review board has found that there was no "pattern" of inappropriate force. Although recommending a review of how complaint are handled, their report (PDF) found that "there is, and was, no systematic abuse by persons employed within the UK Border Agency detention estate, or as escorting officers."

As might be expected, the UKBA press release makes much of this one point;
The report, which was commissioned by the Home Secretary in September 2008, has unequivocally found no evidence of systematic abuse. It says that the force used in the alleged cases of abuse was largely justified and proportionate to manage what was often exceptionally disruptive behaviour, and to ensure that detainees complied with their removal from the UK.
What it failed to note was that, in many cases, there was "no evidence of consideration of the proportionality of the use of handcuffs and leg restraints both before, during and after that use of force." As Harriet Wistrich, of Birnberg Peirce & Partners, told BBC News, the report "recognised that use of control and restraint, and the use of handcuffs, on this very vulnerable group of detainees has often been disproportionate, unnecessary and inappropriate," and "the use of force on such people can cause long-lasting damage as we have been able to prove on many occasions where civil claims have been brought and settled."

The Independent offered a fuller overview of specific incidences of abuse claims where force was not "largely justified and proportionate."
In one case a Cameroon asylum- seeker was handcuffed in her hospital bed when she was recovering from an operation while a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo was physical restrained during an intimate medical examination. In a further three cases serious physical injury was identified – those cases involved a broken finger, a punctured lung and a dislocated knee.

Baroness O'Loan said: "In the first two cases there was no satisfactory explanation as to how these injuries occurred. In the third case there was no clear evidence as to how the injury was sustained."

Highlighting a further example of the misuse of force, Baroness O'Loan said: "There was one case in which a very young woman was lifted almost naked and carried through an Immigration Removal Centre to another location. She was handcuffed behind her back, and the blanket which was supposed to shield her from view fell off. There was no evident consideration of whether this was necessary and proportionate."
The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) quotes Suren Khachatryan. He claimed that he was kicked and stamped on during at attempt to remove him, resulting in a collapsed lung. Baroness O'Loan's report found that there had been no proper investigation. In response, he has said;
I am scared to say too much in response to this in case it [the assault] happens again. I am glad that this independent report notes there was no proper investigation. I am still feeling the consequences of the assault. I still have therapy. It has affected me. I am still receiving treatment five years later. I am very disappointed the government did not do their job properly in the first place. If they do want to re-investigate this again though I am willing to cooperate with them and provide them with what they need.
The NCADC, of course, authored Outsourcing Abuse (PDF) with Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice in 2008. It was this report that prompted the full investigation which O'Loan has reported on today. It is one of the reasons "that there has been almost constant media coverage for months of a wide number of organsiations expressing concern about conditions in detention and during removals ; the Royal Colleges of Paediatricians, Psychiatrists and General Practitioners, the Children’s Commissioner, and Human Rights Watch to name a few." And the breadth of the exposure is staggering;
There have been revelations about inappropriate methods used by UKBA case-workers in determining asylum claims. Prominent actors, authors and religious leaders as well as articles in tabloid newspapers have called for an end to the detention of children. Over 30 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding a recent disturbance at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre for women, children and families. The BBC World Service recently revealed that at least £2m been paid out in compensation claims regarding detention. It seems that UKBA are under attack about detention from many sides.
Perhaps this is why they "were not notified by UKBA of publication of the inquiry" and "the press were invited to a briefing about the inquiry before we, the authors of the dossier, were provided with the report. The complainants, whose cases are featured in the report, were similarly excluded." Clearly, UKBA is doing its level best to suppress any negative coverage of its practices.

They are unlikely to succeed. NCADC, in conjunction with No Borders, are holding solidarity demonstrations in Glasgow and outside Harmondsworth immigration prison this Saturday. They will also be protesting at Yarl's Wood (map), where the hunger strike is now in its fifth week, on Sunday. For the latter protest, they "have chosen to act on Mother’s Day to highlight the cruel way that migrant women, many of whom have come to the UK to seek respite from violence and torture, have been separated from their families for no good reason and at little notice."

All who attend are asked to "bring voices, whistles, drums and anything else that makes a noise: we want the hunger strikers to know that we are with them, and that they are not alone on Mother’s Day." With luck, it will also let UKBA know that, however they try to spin it, their abuses can never be brushed under the carpet.