In 1993, Britain’s immigration prisons comprised just 250 places. Now, only 16 years later, there are nearly 4,000 places. The government said in 2005 that its aim was to ‘move towards the point where it becomes the norm that those who fail [in their asylum claims] will be detained’. Its detention centre building programme is on course to achieve this target, which it will reach only with the help of private companies.
Immigration detention centres were run for profit long before ordinary prisons were contracted out. GEO, a ‘world leader in privatized correctional and detention management,’ as it describes itself on its website, states that the UK has the second largest ‘private correctional market’ in the world.
The government is continuing to work with these companies to increase detention facilities despite many serious complaints about bad practice and, in some cases, legal proceedings against it. Group 4 Security (G4S), the largest detention provider in the UK and the world’s largest security company, runs six immigration prisons in Britain. In 2007 the prisons’ watchdog found massive failings in the facilities at G4S’ Heathrow centre, which they they described as “inadequate” and “dehumanising”. G4S’s record of running prisons is equally poor. In February 2009 an inquest blamed G4S for a catalogue of errors shown to have contributed to the death of Michael Bailey, who was found hanged in HMP Rye Hill.
Kalyx, the company that runs Harmondsworth detention centre, was the subject of serious allegations over conditions at the centre, where disturbances broke out in November 2006 over the treatment of detainees. Human rights group Liberty took legal action on behalf of three detainees who claimed they were denied food and water for up to 40 hours, locked in overcrowded, pitch-black rooms flooded with water for more than 24 hours, forced to urinate and defecate in front of each other, and strip-searched in front of several officers. The Court of Appeal ruled in March 2009 that the government breached the Human Rights Act by failing to order an independent inquiry into the allegations.
GEO, another company the government likes to work with, currently runs Campsfield House, a 215-bed detention centre, which was the scene of protests in 2008 and the escape of seven prisoners. Earlier this year GEO was forced to pay $42.5 million after they were found responsible for the “horrific and gruesome” death of inmate Gregorio De La Rosa, who was beaten to death while guards looked on.
Despite this, the explosion in the number of immigration prisons run by private companies looks set to continue. In April 2009, the UK Borders Agency obtained planning permission to build a new centre at Bullingdon to house 800 men. It will be the largest detention centre to date built in the UK. Modelled on a prison, with 17-foot fences topped by razor wire, it will sit next door to an army firing range.
Planning permission was granted in March for another immigration centre to house 500 single men near Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, which currently houses about 450 single women and families. The same month, plans for a joint Anglo-French detention centre were announced for Calais to hold hundreds of migrants gathering near the Channel port to try to enter Britain, the Times reported.
Although the government refuses to provide statistics showing the number of immigrants and asylum seekers it detains annually, its 2008 figures show a total of over 16,000 people ‘leaving detention’ to be removed from the UK, and Home Office ‘snapshot’ figures show that on 12 February 2009, over 2,300 people were being held. Not all of the detentions are short term, with 150 people of these 2,300 held for over a year. The government has refused to put a time limit on immigration detention.
All the companies involved report healthy profits. Detention appears to be one of the few growth industries in the global recession.
For more information visit:
– www.noii.org.uk (No One is Illegal)
– www.ncadc.org.uk (The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns)