NCADC welcomes today’s report from the Home Affairs Select Committee, which raises concerns that the potentially lethal ‘head-down’ restraint technique is used during enforced removals, that racist language is used by escort staff, that there are too many escorts used in operations, and that risk assessments focus on the risk to escort staff rather the individual being removed.
We agree with its recommendations of better recording of medical conditions, an independent monitoring procedure, the need for urgent guidance to be issued to escort staff about restraint methods and research into appropriate restrain on aircraft, and the need to abolish the ‘reserve’ system during removals.
NCADC believes, however, that this report does not go far enough. We hear on a far too regular basis from individuals who have been verbally and physically abused in immigration detention and during attempted removals. This is simply unacceptable.
Our 2008 co-authored report, Outsourcing Abuse, highlighted this appalling and hidden aspect of our immigration system. Abuses have continued to occur, including the dangerous restraint of a Congolese asylum seeker and the tragic death ofJimmy Mubenga. Jimmy’s widow is still waiting for justice, and the investigation into his death – nearly a year and a half on – has still not been concluded.
Despite this body of evidence and constant criticism of the contracting of UKBA’s dirty work out to private companies, UKBA has failed to act on this gravely serious issue, and claims ‘not to have received any evidence’ that dangerous restraint techniques have been used. The report deals very well with the myriad reasons why an individual facing removal (or who has been removed) may not have confidence or feel safe using the complaints procedure. Time and again, the dangerous and offensive behaviour of staff acting on UKBA’s orders has been brought to their attention, and they have failed to act.
We hope that this measured and important report from the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee will at last compel UKBA to take this issue seriously, as lives are at stake. People in need of protection or with the right to live in the UK are being failed by a dysfunctional asylum and immigration system, poor quality decision making by UKBA, often no or poor quality legal advice, and dangerous enforcement procedures.
With clear evidence of dangerous techniques being employed during enforcement operations, and with the investigation into the death of Jimmy Mubenga still ongoing, we call on the Home Office to cease forced removals.
Hear NCADC interviewed on the BBC about these issues (programmes broadcast on 26 January 2012, available on iplayer for 7 days):
BBC Scotland (at 1:19)
Conclusions/Recommendations of Home Affairs Select Committee:
Rules governing enforced removals from the UK – Home Affairs Committee
1. Those who have no right to remain in the UK must leave the country and, if they refuse to do so voluntarily, they may have to be detained for a short time, if necessary escorted throughout the flight and, in extreme situations, may have to be restrained physically in order to prevent greater harm. However, whenever the state uses force to coerce a person, there need to be checks on that force. These checks take the form of carefully constructed procedures to limit harm, of adequate training and proper supervision of staff, and adequate means of complaint and redress if anything goes wrong. Where the state has contracted out responsibility for coercion, it retains ultimate responsibility for ensuring that all the checks are in place and working well. It is important that this is understood within the culture of both the Agency and that of its contractors, and not just acknowledged in formal documents. This is one of a number of areas of activity where there appears to be a reluctance by officials to accept constructive criticism, and as the UK Border Agency is not an independent body, but is in fact an integral part of the Home Office, this is a matter that we call on the Home Secretary to require the Permanent Secretary to address as part of the central management responsibilities of the Department. (Paragraph 11)
2. We are not persuaded that head-down restraint positions are never used, even though they are not authorised. We recommend that the Home Office issue urgent guidance to all staff involved in enforced removals about the danger of seated restraint techniques in which the subject is bent forwards. We also recommend that the Home Office commission research into control and restraint techniques which are suitable for use on an aircraft. The use by contractors of unauthorised restraint techniques, sanctioning their use, or failing to challenge their use, should be grounds for dismissal. (Paragraph 18)
3. The use of excessive numbers of escorts, to the extent that HM Chief Inspector of Prisons believes that escort numbers are in some cases detrimental to the removals process, is hard to justify against a background of reduced staffing levels across the public sector. It is a symptom of a weakness in the contracting process that the contractor is able to supply more staff than are required to do the job, with costs passed on to the Home Office. When the contract for enforced removals is next revised, it should specify precise ratios of escorts to detainees and the contractor should be able to depart from these only for clearly-defined, operational reasons. (Paragraph 21)
4. We agree with HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, that the use of reserves on enforced removal flights should be discontinued. (Paragraph 23)
5. It seems to us that the form concentrates mainly on any risk to those escorting the detainee rather than to the detainee him/herself. Moreover, the section on health is cramped, and it is not at all clear that it would necessarily be completed in a way to make it immediately comprehensible to a non-medical expert, like an escort officer: the lack of space would tend to force the experts to make terse notes rather than giving helpful detail. This is of special importance if the use of some—or any—restraint techniques might exacerbate an underlying medical condition, such as heart disease or asthma. (Paragraph 25)
6. While we do not want to add to the paperwork which detention centres and escort officers have to deal with, we consider that there is a strong argument for providing a simple indication on the front page of the form flagging up the fact that the detainee has a medical condition which might lead to problems in the stressful conditions of enforced deportation. If a possible problem is flagged up, then the escort officers should be briefed on the practical consequences before the removal begins. (Paragraph 26)
7. It is a matter for serious concern that contractors should use racist language among themselves. That they were content to do so in front of not only UK Border Agency staff but also inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons is shocking. It is possibly the result of a relationship between the Agency and its contractors which had become too cosy. We recommend that the senior management of the UK Border Agency send a clear and strong message to staff who are involved in removals, that they have the full support of senior management in challenging the use of racist language by contractors, and that they are expected to do so. The contract should be amended to include a provision which requires the contractor to pay a financial penalty to the Home Office where there is a proven incident of the use of racist language by its staff. (Paragraph 32)
8. We recommend that members of the Independent Monitoring Boards for immigration removal centres—or a similar independent monitoring network—be given access to chartered removal flights. However, the main issue is the need for better management and more confident behaviour by staff of the Agency and this is a matter that must be addressed by the Permanent Secretary in relation to removals as well as to the generality of the work of this Agency which is—as we have pointed out repeatedly—an integral part of the Home Office and not an independent or arm’s-length agency. (Paragraph 40)