Immigration detention conditions slammed. Larne plans move ahead.

With the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) moving ahead with plans to open a short-term “immigration removal centre” in Larne, concerns were heightened today with the publication of a damning report by HM Inspector of Prisons into Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre and Short Term Holding Facility near Heathrow.

Colnbrook is operated by private company Serco on behalf of UKBA and is just the latest such centre to be the focus of significant criticism in a HM Inspector of Prisons report. A whole series of reports from the Inspector outline similar concerns about other UKBA Short Term Holding Facilities (STHF) such as that planned for Larne.

It is worth remembering, as previously noted on Slugger and as today’s report does, that:

detainees were not held because they had been charged with a criminal offence and had not been detained through normal judicial processes.

In total, HM Inspector of Prisons makes 191 recommendations to change current practices at the Colnbrook centre. In contrast, they list only two examples of good practice.

Among the issues raised in the report are:
– safety concerns, compounded by a significant drug problem;
– detainees in STHF were locked in cramped conditions in their rooms for up to 23 hours a day;
– the STHF was an inappropriate place to hold women;
– two-thirds of detainees said that they had felt unsafe;
– too little use of interpretation;
– no evidence of any systematic attempt to identify the needs of minority groups;
– resources devoted to the welfare service were being reduced;
– there was excessive use of demeaning anti-ligature clothing; and
– disproportionate security responses, with a high use of force.

In 2008, the Council of Europe produced a detailed report on asylum and immigration in the UK, noting:

The Commissioner is concerned at the UKBA’s public commitment to expanding the immigration detention facilities. He urges the authorities to consider the possibility of drastically limiting migrants’ administrative detention.

The governent has ignored the recommendation.

So, if and when the Larne centre opens, will it boast the same poor conditions as other UKBA detention facilities? Does anyone care?

I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.

I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan