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Appalling treatment of Heathrow detainees laid bare

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 4:49 pm    Post subject: Appalling treatment of Heathrow detainees laid bare Reply with quote

Appalling treatment of Heathrow detainees laid bare in damning report

UK Border Agency urged to improve conditions for foreign visitors and refugees

By Robert Verkaik, Home Affairs Editor

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Thousands of foreign visitors and refugees who are detained at Heathrow airport each year are forced to endure degrading living conditions and "deep-seated" negative attitudes about their welfare, an independent report concludes today.

The findings will add to growing concerns about the treatment of foreign people held in detention in the UK before they are granted entry clearance or sent home. The report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) makes note of cockroaches in Terminal 4 kitchens and the absence of proper washing facilities for detainees held overnight.

The monitors were so angered by one case, the comprehensive failure to care for the needs of a disabled visitor who was travelling to the UK with her young son, that they sought personal apologies from the staff concerned. Some of the visitors held at Heathrow are incoming passengers detained for questioning or refused entry to the UK. Others are brought to Heathrow from immigration removal centres, prisons or police stations to be deported.

The authors said: "The generic term 'detainee' casts no light on the humanity of the men, women and children to whom it is applied. The IMB perceives a deep-seated negative attitude towards their wellbeing while in detention at the airport, at both policy and operational levels." Other language which the report said reflected these views included the use of the phrase "these people" to describe visitors held in what staff inappropriately referred to as "pens".

Between 2008 and 2009, 33,100 people were detained at the airport, of whom 22,000 were detained in holding rooms and 11,100 in Queen's Buildings, which is mostly used for holding failed asylum-seekers before they are returned to their own countries.

The UK Border Agency has hired G4 Securicor to staff the short-term detention facilities but the report makes it clear that the IMB thought the Government had "failed repeatedly to supervise its staff in key areas, all impacting on detainees' welfare."

The IMB called on G4 Securicor to address these issues urgently. It said: "We urge the [UK Border Agency] to take necessary steps, whether in terms of their own processes, or the performance of G4S as escort contractor, to drive down the length of time many are detained. Action is overdue."

There was further criticism of the Terminal 5 detention block which opened last year. The report said the facilities had a number of "design faults": lights could not be dimmed or switched off and air temperature in the holding room could not be moderated, meaning that it was cold all night.

But the monitors reserved their severest criticism for the Terminal 5 lavatories. "We first visited T5 two weeks before it opened and were shocked to see that the lavatory doors had large gaps at the top and bottom. Whatever went on within would be detectable outside in the holding room."

The Home Office denied that detainees were subject to inhumane treatment while held at Heathrow. The IMB has recommended that the Home Office require the UK Border Agency to set up an urgently-needed residential short-term holding facility at Heathrow.

The spokesman said that the UK Border Agency was examining the feasibility of a residential facility at Heathrow.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "We are determined all removals from the UK are undertaken in a humane and compassionate way. The majority of people stopped at Heathrow airport for immigration questioning are on a plane home within eight hours.

"To keep the UK's border secure, we rigorously test all entry cases with fairness and impartiality."

Monitors' anger: A catalogue of failures

A disabled woman and her son held at Heathrow were the victims of a catalogue of "failures and inattention" that typified the experience of many detainees at the airport, the report found.

The woman, an asylum-seeker, had been left slumped in her wheelchair while her son looked on anxiously. "His patent anxiety had seemingly not been noticed. We took him to the bookcase. He jumped at the chance of some children's books," said the monitors.

When they spoke to the woman they discovered that she would be more comfortable lying down but could not do so unaided.

"The Detainee Custody Officers [DCOs] were not willing to help us lift her, because they had not been trained. A Chief Immigration Officer was willing when we told him the problem. We lifted her out of her wheelchair and helped her lie down, on some seats."

The woman's son then removed her socks and started to rub her swollen feet. "We put a couple of pillows under her head. There were no pillowcases and no clean ones in stock. The DCOs leapt into action and handed out crisps," the report stated.

Further failures led to the family spending unnecessary time in detention after they had been granted temporary admission to the UK.

"We were angry at the disgraceful way in which this family had been treated," said the monitors.

Their concerns were reported to UK Border Agency's Detention Services, who pursued them with Border Force and G4 Securicor.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2009 12:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 10:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

To Detention list:

Immigration: Heathrow Airport

[Cayley House STHC, new to me, any one else heard of it]

House of Lords / 6 July 2009 : Column 443

Question, Asked By Baroness Hanham

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is the responsibility of the UK Border Agency or the British Airports Authority to ensure that actions recommended by the independent monitoring board for Heathrow Airport, in particular for the provision of proper washing facilities in the terminals' holding rooms and for repair and maintenance of the detention accommodation generally, are implemented.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the BAA is responsible for the provision and maintenance of holding rooms at Heathrow Airport, including providing basic facilities such as rest rooms. We are aware that the independent monitoring board does not consider the current facilities to be adequate. Since its report was written, we have opened Cayley House, which provides better facilities, including showers. The United Kingdom Border Agency and its contractors are committed to providing as comfortable an environment as is reasonably possible, and have been working with the IMB to consider its report's recommendations in further detail.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. What direct relationship is there between the Home Office and the British Airports Authority to ensure not only that these facilities are adequate, particularly when children are being held in them for several days, as is often the case, but that the standards required by the monitoring board are in fact met?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness takes a particular interest in this important issue. When I visited one of these holding rooms at Gatwick, I have to say that I was not overimpressed. There have been two reports; the first made 34 recommendations, and we accepted 32 of them, and out of the second report's 47 recommendations, 38 were accepted. That shows that there is a lot to be done. In concert with BAA, we have produced an action plan; it was sent to the IMB on 29 May, and a copy has been placed in the House Library. We work very closely with BAA and, of course, G4S, which implements a lot of the personnel issues; the co-ordination now works well. I believe that we are putting right some of the faults that existed and are well on track to recover from the position we were in.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, there has been no response from the Home Office, UKBA or G4S to the report on the appalling conditions in these facilities. Does not the noble Lord think that in the circumstances, an instruction should be given to UKBA that no one is to be detained overnight in places that have no accommodation for sleeping and scarcely any facilities for washing and cleaning oneself? Could not the Government ensure that any detainee who is held temporarily in these places is transferred before 24 hours has expired to a proper place of detention?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as I said, I think that the provision of Cayley House at Heathrow resolves that situation. It is not as though we provide nothing: we provide toiletry packs, clothes, blankets, newspapers, magazines, hot and cold food, eye masks in places where the lighting is difficult, family areas, telephones without SIM cards which people can use, DVD players, DVDs and baby changing facilities. We provide a lot, and it is getting better. We are meeting all these commitments, and I do not believe that there is a need for a statutory obligation. In close co-ordination, we are arriving at the right answer.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the contract for running the Heathrow centres expires in April 2010, and that the independent monitoring board has recommended some changes to the contract, such as a prohibition on moving families in caged vehicles and a requirement that a female officer is always present when women are detained? Can the Minister assure the House that these requirements will be in the new contract?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am not aware of all the details of the new contract being negotiated. As for there not being enough women officers, I am aware of that as an issue; there were not enough, and G4S is actively recruiting people to get around that problem. I should like to get back to the noble Baroness with details of the specific contract.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the United Kingdom Border Agency's response to many of the recommendations in the action plan is that recent changes in the G4S management structure at Heathrow will ensure contractual compliance. Can the Minister tell us today what these changes are and what it is hoped they will achieve?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as the third partner, G4S has instigated its own action plan. It has changed its senior management; clearly, it was not providing the right answer. It addresses such things as appropriate stock levels for consumables, welfare items and so on. There is a training course for its staff because one of the issues that was picked up was the attitude of detention staff to detainees, which was not appropriate. There is one-to-one training for staff to make sure that their attitude is correct. Pressure has been put on G4S to improve collection times. Clearly, those times were not as good as they should have been. In one case, collection took something like 12 and a half hours; now the average is one and a half hours, and we are improving that so that detainees can be moved on to other facilities. All of those issues have shown a marked improvement, which gives a flavour of the sort of improvements that G4S has made.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, could the Minister confirm whether there are plans to improve family rooms in Terminals 1, 2 and 3 at Heathrow Airport, which are described in the report as being small and poorly equipped?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the sort of issues and facilities that I have mentioned are being dealt with. What is extremely difficult-because the terminals have already been built-is, for example, providing showers and shower rooms. That is why we have constructed Cayley House, which has plenty of space and shower facilities. Therefore, we would move people from more cramped places to Cayley House if they are to be held for longer periods. At the moment, there are no plans to put showers in the terminals because Cayley House has been constructed and people can be moved there.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concern raised in the report that pregnant women due for removal from this country were spending nine or more hours in the airport before their departure, when the target time is between three and seven hours? Are there instructions on this matter?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I was aware of this issue and the length of time that removal was taking. Each woman is assessed on a case-by-case basis because pregnant women are not, of course, ill-they are just pregnant. Issues such as concern and timing depend on the stage of her pregnancy. There is no doubt that some cases were taking too long and shortening those timescales is one of the issues that is being addressed.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, does the Minister accept that in many of these cases, interpreters are needed to ensure that detainees can communicate with the person dealing with their case? How much of the long time that some detainees spend in the holding centres is due to delay in providing an interpreter, and are there plans to improve the situation?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord identifies an issue. We are now trying to allow phone interpreters to speed this up.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

new report by Anne Owers, published today;
'Detainee escorts and removals',

Detainee escorts and removals.pdf

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