The Home Office and its duty of care towards people in detention – a huge question mark

: The Home Office and its duty of care towards people in detention – a huge question mark  30 October 2013

In the latest of a series of fires in UK Immigration Removal Centres, two people from Campsfield House in Kidlington, near Oxford, have been hospitalised.  The Detention Forum is concerned that the Home Office may be failing to discharge its duty of care towards people held in Immigration Removal Centres across the UK. 

The Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) have made it clear following the incident that the Home Office has continued to ignore their recommendation to fit sprinklers in Campsfield.  Commending the work of the firefighters who dealt with the fire, CFOA President, Paul Fuller said that ‘the extensive spread of the fire might have been halted before the lives of firefighters and the centre’s staff and residents were put at risk, had the Home Office listened to Oxfordshire Fire Service’s advice to fit sprinklers at the Campsfield Centre.’

There have been several major fires at immigration removal centres over the last decade.  In 2002, Yarls Wood Immigration Detention Centre in Bedfordshire was extensively damaged by fire.  Another major fire happened in 2006at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow Airport during a serious disturbance.

We believe that Immigration Removal Centres are inevitably a high fire risk.   The doors to each wing are usually locked, the rooms are locked from outside during the night and the buildings are behind high fences.  We are therefore troubled to find that, despite the lessons of Yarl’s Wood, where fire spread because there were no sprinklers, and despite the expert advice of the CFOA in 2007 that they should be fitted at Campsfield, this has not been done.

This is not the first time the Home Office’s carrying out of its duty of care towards detainees has been questioned.  In September 2013 allegations of sexual abuse were made by women held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.  Over the last few years, alarming number of deaths have occurred in or immediately after detention.  This year alone, there have been two deaths: in March, Khalid Shahzad died within hours of being released from Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre and in August Tahir Mehmood died whilst being held at Pennine House Short Term Holding Centre at Manchester Airport.

It is long overdue for the government to review their policy of immigration detention, and at the same time take seriously their duty to care for the people detained indefinitely for administrative convenience.  As a first step, we call on the Home Office to request a thorough inspection of the whole detention estate by the Chief Fire Officers Association, and to act on their recommendations immediately, before more lives are put at risk.