By Peter Tatchell of OutRage!
Close Harmondsworth, put Home Office ministers on trial
Harmondsworth is Britain's equivalent of Guantanamo Bay
London – 30 November 2006
This weeks’ riot by detainees at the Harmondsworth immigration and
asylum detention centre in west London was entirely predictable, given
the centre’s grossly inhumane conditions.
Harmondsworth is Britain's equivalent of Guantanamo Bay - a total
disgrace to a supposedly civilised, democratic nation. Many of its
detainees are refugees who have committed no crime, yet they are
subjected to a draconian prison-style regime and allegedly criminal
abuses by rogue staff.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, issued a damning report
this week, describing conditions in Harmondsworth as the worst she has
ever seen in an immigration and asylum detention centre.
Her report revealed that 60% of inmates felt unsafe and 44% said they
had been victimised by staff.
Read the full, shocking report here:
can confirm everything that Anne Owers has said about Harmondsworth –
During my human rights work with asylum applicants at Harmondsworth I
have received persistent reports of grave human rights abuses by some
staff (although, I must stress, there are some outstandingly good
If true, these allegations are so serious that criminal charges should
follow against the staff concerned and against the Harmondsworth
management company, Kalyx Ltd.
The allegations include claims of physical violence, sexual assault,
racism, homophobic harassment and corruption by certain staff,
including alleged collusion with drug dealing and extortion within the
Gay inmates, or those merely suspected (sometimes erroneously) of
being gay, face an almost daily barrage of insults, threats and,
occasionally, actual queer-bashing violence. Certain staff allegedly
subject known or suspected gay detainees to digital anal examinations,
with no apparent medical or security justification.
Criminal gangs reportedly operate inside Harmondsworth, with impunity.
These are mostly convicted criminals awaiting deportation. They are
free to prey on vulnerable, law-abiding asylum applicants who have
committed no crime.
It is alleged that some of these gangs are allowed access to staff
offices to use the phones and computers. This privileged office access
is unavailable to other inmates. One can only speculate as to who
authorises their access to these facilities and why.
There is an excessive use of punitive solitary confinement; sometimes
for petty, unjustified reasons. Segregation and isolation were used in
Harmondsworth as a punishment 129 times in one six-month period in
2006. It is said that on some occasions solitary has been meted out
for no other reason than a detainee’s loud protests against abuses.
Some staff would, it seems, prefer to silence critics rather than deal
with their complaints.
These wide-ranging allegations concern criminal and imprisonable
offences, which successive Home Office ministers have been alerted to,
but have apparently chosen to ignore. If the allegations are proven,
these ministers should be not only be sacked; they should also face
criminal charges of negligence and of failing in their duty of care
for allowing these human rights abuses to continue.
Harmondsworth and all Britain’s asylum detention centres are inhuman
hell-holes that should be closed down. They are unfit for purpose.