3 March 2016

The largest immigration detention centre in Europe, Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre in the UK, has been found to have deteriorated to an ‘unacceptable condition’. The Chief Inspector of Prisons in the UK, Peter Clarke, has published  a damning report after an unannounced visit to the Centre in September 2015. The Centre has a capacity for 661 male detainees, and holds asylum seekers as well as those awaiting removal to their countries of origin.

The report finds that conditions in some residential units are ‘appalling’ with the standard of repair, cleanliness and hygiene unacceptably poor. Showers and toilets in the older units were seriously insanitary, with many rooms overcrowded and poorly ventilated. Clarke deplores that the centre was allowed to reach such a state, finding that in many respects there had been a deterioration since the last inspection in August 2013.

Corroborating recent findings by other investigations, the inspection found that processes in place to prevent the detention of vulnerable people were not effective. 18% of those detained in cases reviewed were later released due to illness, suicidal intentions or experience of torture. The report found that the Rule 35 process, by which doctors assess whether a person is unfit for detention due to vulnerability, were often mechanical and lacking in detail with some doctors unsure what their role was, which undermined the effectiveness of this safeguard.

With regard to the length of detention the inspection found that some were being held for an ‘unreasonably long time’: 18 detainees had been held for over a year, and one man had been detained for a total period of five years on separate occasions. Vindicating a campaign by a wide range of stakeholders, Clarke recommended that there should be a time limit on the length of detention. The UK is the only country in the EU which can indefinitely detain asylum seekers and migrants. 

ECRE Member, the British Refugee Council stated that ‘the evidence against the Government’s current policy of callous, casual, indefinite imprisonment is mounting’ describing the policy as ‘scandalous’ and ‘ruinous’. Detention Action also called for urgent and fundamental reform.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 4 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.