‘Shut down Harmondsworth’

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‘SHUT down Harmondsworth immigration centre!’ demanded the Movement for Justice yesterday, in response to a damning report which exposed the centre as being filthy and insect-ridden with a ‘desolate’ atmosphere.

The privately-run detention facility is situated in West Drayton, west London where as many as 661 male refugees are being incarcerated. The centre is run by private contractor MITIE Care and Custody on behalf of the Home Office.

The report by Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke states that detainees are being held in cockroach-infested rooms for long periods of time, with mattresses crawling with bedbugs. The report describes the detention centre as having dirty, overcrowded and poorly ventilated residential units with a ‘desolate air’, and unsanitary toilets and showers.

Nearly half of detainees said they had felt depressed or suicidal on arrival. Some detainees were held for over a year, with one man held for five years. Asylum seekers who are being held at the centre have committed no crime. They are only trying to get a better life for themselves and their families in the UK.

The chief inspector said: ‘It is unacceptable that conditions were allowed to decline so much. The Home Office and its contractors have a responsibility to ensure this does not happen again.’

The report found some men were held at Harmondsworth for an ‘unreasonably long’ time, including 18 men who had been detained for more than a year and one man who had been held on separate occasions for a total of five years.

Movement for Justice said: ‘We have had nine demonstrations to shut down Harmondsworth centre, the largest detention centre complex in Europe – the main centre holding detainees on Fast-Track, a system designed to deport as many people as possible as quickly as possible, a system that has been found thoroughly unlawful in the High Court. Movement for Justice is committed to building the movement to end detention both inside and outside of the detention centres and we know we can win!’

Meanwhile asylum seekers in Scotland have allegedly been locked out of their homes by a private company Orchard & Shipman (O&S) in order to clear out ‘overstayers’ by certain dates.

An ex-employee of O&S, Shafiq Mohammed alleged that staff would sometimes ‘look at a time to catch them the asylum seeker when they’re out to just change the locks. It’s as simple as and as brutal as that’.

Shafiq Mohammed said the changing of locks could mean a ‘person will be literally out on the street’. He said: ‘They want to have that flat cleared, so they can move that next paying customer in.’

O&S has managed the £221m Home Office contract for asylum seeker accommodation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, on behalf of international service company Serco, since September 2012. Emails have surfaced to back up the claims.

One email written by an operations manager in July 2013, informs staff that notice has been served to the occupants of ten properties. The manager then informs staff to first ‘advise’ the asylum seeker in advance of the date listed beside each address, but ‘if they do not move, perform a lock change at the first available opportunity. . . please ensure this is given absolute priority’.

Another email reads: ‘Please ensure that we bag/tag belongings at the same time as performing the lock change.’