Lawyer urges action over privately-run immigration detention centres

Sasha Barton
Sasha Barton

Privately-run immigration detention centres are in such a poor state that preventable deaths are taking place, according to a civil liberties lawyer.

Sasha Barton, partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, called on UK government ministers to take urgent action in a letter sent to The Independent.

Ms Barton condemned instances of “physical violence from staff, gross failures in medical care, shambolic record keeping, limited understanding of mental health issues and poor communication between staff”.

It follows last week’s warning from Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, that the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre should be considered a “place of national concern” because of its poor condition.

A recent report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found 45 per cent of female detainees, who make up the majority of the centre’s population, felt “unsafe” in the facility.

It also uncovered evidence that some people were held in the centre for over a year because of “unacceptable” delays in processing their cases.

However, HMIP identified poor healthcare and under-staffing as the centre’s principal problems, rather than systematic abuse.

Serco has operated the Yarl’s Wood centre since 2007, while G4S provides health services for detainees.

Gary Christie, head of policy and communications at Scottish Refugee Council, told Scottish Legal News: “At minimum, there must be regular review of the cases of people in detention, and private contractors must deliver properly on agreed standards of care.

“Ideally there needs to be a hard look at whether the detention system is even appropriate – detention can exacerbate the trauma that many people have already experienced.

“In practical terms, there is also a major issue of people being moved frequently around the immigration detention estate, often losing contact with friends and loved ones as well as their lawyers. This can impact unfairly on the success of asylum applications.

“Last week’s worrying report on Yarl’s Wood highlighted the systemic problems that can arise in detention centres – and begs the question, are these really appropriate places to house people who have fled persecution, torture or sexual abuse? Can’t the UK do better?”

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