Inspection finds serious deficiencies in short-term holding centres

July 21, 2005 — Review

Written by Harmit Athwal

An inspection report into three short-term holding centres is another damning indictment of the way asylum seekers are treated in the UK.

On 6 June, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, published her first report of unannounced inspections of three ‘short-term holding centres’ for asylum seekers. The short-term holding centres, at Harwich International Port (run by Abbey Security Ltd), Manchester Airport (run by Global Solutions Ltd) and Port of Dover (run by Dover Harbour Board), hold people for up to seven days. The centres hold those who have been refused entry to the UK; those being deported straight away and those being detained prior to removal or transfer elsewhere. The children held in these centres seem to be those who are placed at most risk. None of the centres detaining children had adequate child protection procedures and staff likely to be working with children had not been checked with the Criminal Records Bureau. (The seriousness of failing to carry out such checks was highlighted in the Soham murders case.)

Furthermore, asylum seekers were not being given information on where to obtain legal advice; none of the centres was independently monitored; self-harm and suicide procedures were found to be inadequate; there was no healthcare provisions for those detained at two of the centres; there were no medical examinations following the use of restraint against detainees, nor were any records kept of its use.

Dover health provision criticised

All the centres were criticised for their poor health provisions. For example, at the Port of Dover the inspection team found that there were problems getting medical attention for detainees. There was a nurses’ consulting room in the centre but no nursing provision and there were no routine health checks. Detainees requiring medical attention were passed to the Immigration Service which, in turn, referred them to the port medical officer. These findings are interesting in the light of the death of Kurdish asylum seeker Elmas Ozmico in July 2003, just days after arriving in Dover. At the inquest into her death, where seven institutions were represented because she had passed through so many hands, her family claimed that she had requested medical help on arrival but did not receive it. A medical expert at the inquest indicated that had she been taken to hospital earlier, she would, on the balance of probabilities, survived. (Read IRR News story Asylum seeker death in Dover from ‘natural causes’). The Chief Inspectors recommendation that ‘there should be a formal arrangement to ensure that detainees have access to a healthcare check within 24 hours of arrival’ could not be more apt.

Main findings
  • No recorded management oversight from local immigration teams or the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND);
  • Inadequate provisions for childcare and child protection in all three centers;
  • None had a locally agreed child protection policy;
  • None of the centres had adequate self-harm, suicide, or anti-bullying policies;
  • Some staff had not been trained in self-harm and suicide prevention;
  • None of the Harwich custody staff had been trained in control and restraint techniques and management of control and restraint was deficient in Harwich and the Port of Dover;
  • Reasons for detention were provided in English only;
  • Inadequate healthcare provisions in all of the centres.
Main recommendations
  • The National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards should propose a mechanism for regular, independent monitoring;
  • Documented supervision of each holding room by onsite immigration managers;
  • Access to professional healthcare for detainees during all periods of detention.
  • All centres should have a comprehensive child protection policy agreed with the local area child protection committee;
  • Safer custody procedures including an anti-bullying policy and staff training in self-harm and suicide prevention;
  • Documented and approved fire and health and safety policies and procedures;
  • Arrangements for detainees to put their affairs in order and recover or arrange for the disposal of their property which detainees should be informed of;
  • Medical examinations after every incident of the use of force and any detainee injuries to be recorded. The IND to monitor trends and where necessary commission investigations.

Related links

Full text of the HM Inspectors Report on the unannounced inspections of three short-term residential holding facilities (pdf file, 305kb)

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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