Immigration detention: deadly and punitive

shut down morton hall demonstration 20 january 2018
Shut down morton hall demonstration, 20 January 2018

On 20 January 2018, Nottingham RCG comrades supported a demonstration at Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (IRC). The demonstration was bigger than previous ones, with groups from London, Nottingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester attending. Protesters included former detainees of Morton Hall and other IRCs. At earlier demonstrations protesters were able to march around the perimeter of the IRC, shouting their solidarity to the detainees inside; however on this occasion they were prevented by a heavy police presence. The police had erected fences and used cameras and a drone to observe the demonstration. There were four deaths in Morton Hall in the year up to November 2017, and the increased police presence suggests that the state is concerned about abuse in the IRC being highlighted by such protests. Nicki Jameson and Lucy Roberts report.

The detainees who died at Morton Hall were:

  • 6 December 2016 – Bai Ahmed Kabia (49), from Sierra Leone, died in hospital, having been in immigration detention for two years after serving seven and a half months in a criminal prison for fraud offences. He had lived in Britain for 27 years.
  • 11 January 2017 – Lukasz Debowski (27), from Poland, took his own life.
  • 2 October 2017 – Carlington Spencer (38), from Jamaica died following a stroke. In a letter to the Glasgow Unity centre, Morton Hall detainees stated that medical staff failed to treat him properly and clinical negligence was a factor in his death.
  • 19 December 2017 – Arim Bakar, aged 27, from Iraq, appears to have taken his own life.

During the same period there were four other deaths in IRCs – one each at Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, both situated near to Heathrow airport, one at The Verne in Dorset, and one at Dungavel, South Lanarkshire.

Immigration prisons

There are currently eight operational IRCs in England and one in Scotland. In 2016 the Home Office announced that the latter would close but reversed this decision in 2017, having failed to get planning permission from Renfrewshire Council for a replacement ‘short-term holding facility’ near Glasgow Airport. There are already such ‘facilities’ at Manchester Airport and Larne in the north of Ireland.

Last year the Home Office announced that in 2018 The Verne in Dorset will return to being a criminal prison, a function it fulfilled for 55 years before becoming an IRC in 2014. Like The Verne, Morton Hall is a former prison, which is still managed by the Prison Service and staffed by members of the Prison Officers Association. The remaining IRCs are contracted to private companies, which have rightly received significant criticism for their mistreatment of detainees as they scramble to obtain lucrative government contracts at the lowest cost to themselves; however it is worth noting that of the eight deaths listed above, five occurred in state-managed prisons.

Since 1993, when Campsfield House became Britain’s first privately-run IRC, there have been repeated changes of management, as companies fall in and out of favour with the government, undercut or swallow up one another, rebrand or move into ‘custodial services’ from other areas of the ‘service industry’. Currently Mitie runs three IRCs, G4S two, Serco and GEO one each. Contracting out has accompanied a massive expansion in the immigration detention estate: in 1993 there were 250 places available, rising to 2,665 by the end of 2009 and 3,915 at the start of 2015.

The numbers of people held in immigration detention have dropped slightly since 2015, following the publication of a damning report by the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration into Britain’s over-use of indefinite immigration detention. However they are still frighteningly high. On 14 December 2017, Amnesty International published a report entitled: A matter of routine: the use of immigration detention in the UK, which concludes that detention is used ‘as a matter of default and convenience’, causing significant harm to detainees and their families, and recommends a reduction in the use of detention, including by introducing a statutory time limit and automatic judicial oversight in all cases.

According to Amnesty: ‘In the year ending June 2017, the number of people placed in immigration detention in the UK was 27,819. Of these, 23,651 were men, 4,120 were women and 48 were children. With few exceptions, there is no statutory time limit on their detention...For most of them, this… lasts at most a few weeks, but some are held for many months and even years. Most detainees are ultimately released back into the community.’

Brexit means detention

Following the June 2016 referendum, there was a sharp spike in detention of people from European Economic Area (EEA) countries. Data released by Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis in August 2017 in response to a parliamentary question revealed that 3,699 EU nationals were detained in IRCs in 2016 – 1,000 more than in 2015.

In December 2017 the High Court ruled that a Home Office policy of deporting rough sleepers from EEA countries was unlawful and hundreds of people detained under the policy may now be entitled to compensation for unlawful detention; however the detention of EEA nationals who have served short prison sentences from which they would ordinarily have been automatically released is continuing.

Fight racism! Fight imperialism! Free the prisoners!

The Revolutionary Communist Group opposes all immigration detention and all Britain’s racist immigration laws and apparatus. Britain is an imperialist country, which has colonised and plundered half the world and continues to foment war and carry out invasions around the globe, causing asylum seekers to flee and seek sanctuary. It is a capitalist country, which – whether in or out of the EU – uses immigration powers in an attempt to regulate the flow of labour according to the dictates of the market. The British government has no right, therefore, to criminalise asylum seekers, people who come here seeking work, be it from the EU or elsewhere, or any other category of migrant, and anyone opposing British capitalism and imperialism must stand in solidarity with the struggles of migrants.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 262 February/March 2018


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