The Refugee Council has welcomed today’s publication of a new Amnesty International UK report on detention of asylum seekers ‘The Human Cost of Detention’.
Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said: ‘We warmly welcome this vital and timely report.
‘As the government plans to expand the use of detention in the asylum process, this report highlights the dangers inherent in this approach.
‘The evidence is stark – people are being detained arbitrarily, without proper consideration of whether it is appropriate or indeed necessary to do so.
‘This includes pregnant women and families with children, torture victims and other extremely vulnerable individuals.
‘Many refugees come to the UK having been imprisoned in their home countries.
‘It is enormously damaging for them to then be locked up here in the UK, the country they believed would offer them safety.
‘Today marks the beginning of Refugee Week, when we celebrate the positive contribution refugees make to the UK and also reflect on why people seek sanctuary here.
‘It can’t be right to lock people up simply because they have asked for safety here – seeking asylum is not a crime.
‘If the concern is to maintain contact with people during their asylum claim there are perfectly straightforward ways of doing this through reporting and similar requirements without resorting to the arbitrary and unlawful use of detention.
‘Nobody should be detained unless there is substantial evidence to prove it is absolutely necessary.
‘There should be a maximum time li mit for detention, the ability to challenge the decision to detain, and children should never be detained.’
The News Line has received a ‘clarion call for humane treatment of detainees at Harmondsworth Detention Centre’ from the National Coaliton of Anti-Deportation Campaigns signed ‘From all The Detainees Harmondsworth Detention Centre’.
The statement makes veryserious allegations about refugees held at the centre, who are held there pending deportation, or while their apppeals against deportation are being considered.
The open letter states: ‘Dear Sir/ Madam,
‘We as detainees have decided to bring to your attention our odious stay at the above-mentioned centre.
Firstly, we would like to bring to light the treatment detainees receive from security staff.
‘This perpetual abuse of authority is having an adverse effect on detainees’ fragile mental health state.
‘Below are some of the issues we have tried to discuss with our custodians but to little avail.’
The detainees allege: ‘Detainees who are brought to the centre outside mealtimes are not provided with a meal.
‘This includes those detainees who spend the whole day in Bail Court and are baptized with starvation on their return to the detention centre. They are told we have run out of food until next mealtime.
‘Newly arrived detainees are again forced to eat vegetarian meals before they qualify for food of their choice.
‘We have expressed on several occasions that the food portions are not sufficient for us.
‘Detainees are given two scoops of rice a day, one at lunch and one at dinner, seven days a week.
‘We are also provided with the most acidic fruits and most of us are always hungry.’
The detainees further allege their communal facilities are in a ‘shambolic state’.
They write: ‘We have no access to electronic shaving equipment and are told to book for the saloon on Wing Day.
‘The toilets and showers are insufficiently cleaned and this, compounded with poor drainage, means the place is always smelly.’
The letter makes serious allegations about the treatment of detainees by the staff of the privately-run centre.
It states: ‘As detainees we are viewed as worthless by our imperious officers. They are impervious to our human rights and individuality.
‘Detainees have complained of being verbally and physically abused by the officers. An example of such treatment is when a detainee was strip-searched in the canteen in front of female officers and during mealtime.’
The detainees’ letter further alleges: ‘The escorts beat the deportees at the airport and verbally abuse us.
When you refuse to go, they handcuff you and drag you along by the handcuffs.
‘The escorts have even boasted about how they beat Zimbabwean girls from Yarl’s Wood, some of whom suffered neck inflammations, cuts from handcuffs and punches in the face.
‘Some of our colleagues are denied access to x-rays on their return to detention and are told to take painkillers. One Zimbabwean was so badly hurt by the escorts that they were released from detention on medical grounds.’
The detainees allege: ‘Some letters sent to us are confiscated at the detention information centre, saying, “Due to the nature of the letter-head it is not possible for you to receive it.”
‘When you go to court they say you need evidence to support your case but they hold up the evidence that people collect saying it will incite others. Did anybody come into detention with others?’
The detainees allege that immigration officials’ main concern ‘is to get you deported’.
Complaining of ill-treatment, they allege that the centre’s officers do not record detainees’ behaviour accurately on their report.
The letter alleges officers state ‘that he/she is not sympathising with the authorities, as a way of damaging one’s credibility, so that the Home Office may use it against you in front of the judges at court.
‘They are only concerned about deporting people, saying you are not sympathising with the authorities so we cannot grant you bail or release you.’
Finally, commenting on monthly reports of their cases from the Home Office, the detainees allege: ‘Reports are faxed to you on 26 April 2005 and you receive it on 4 May 2005 from the information centre and in the case of one detainee that was after his flight on the 3 May 2005 had been cancelled.’
The letter is signed: ‘From all The Detainees Harmondsworth Detention Centre, P.O. Box 724, Longford, West Drayton, Middlesex UB7 0XN.’
Meanwhile, lecturers and students will be protesting in Canterbury this Wednesday to ‘Let Abrahim and Safiq stay!’ assembling at 4.30pm outside the Student Union at Canterbury Christ Church University College, North Holmes Road, Canterbury.
Nineteen-year-old Abrahim Rahimi, a promising ESOL student at Canterbury Christ Church University College has been detained in Dover since he went to sign at the Immigration reporting centre in Folkstone on Saturday June 4th.
He faces deportation to Afghanistan where he will be in grave danger.
Another Afghan, a first-year business studies student, Safiq Rafiqi, has also been arrested.