Racism and the use of force during deportations

February 16, 2012 — Review

Written by Bedour Alagraa

The parliamentary Home Affairs Committee has recently published a report on rules governing enforced removal from the UK.

Concerns surrounding the treatment of people being removed by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) [and its contractors] have been growing in light of recent events. In particular, the death of Jimmy Mubenga in October 2010 during a deportation on board a flight at Heathrow has led to increased and necessary scrutiny of the detention and deportation process in the UK. More specifically, the public/private partnership between the UKBA and security contractor G4S in the removal process has been subject to increased scrutiny. Outlined in the report from the Home Affairs Committee is a series of policy reviews and recommendations, as well as testimonies given to the committee by key people in the UKBA as well as G4S.

Jimmy Mubenga’s death was the impetus for the ‘inquiry into the rules governing enforced removals from the UK, and in particular the role of the UK Border Agency in overseeing the contractors acting on its behalf in escorting those being removed’.

In some deportations those with a medical condition, or those needing supervision are accompanied by escorts. Private security firm G4S was the contractor providing escorts for enforced removals since 2005.[1] The UKBA’s operating standards which detail the policy on the use of force states: ‘that force is used only when necessary to keep a detainee in custody, to prevent violence, to prevent destruction of the property of the removal centre or of others and to prevent detainees from seeking to prevent their own removal physically or physically interfering with the lawful removal of another detainee’.[2] The use of force in the removals process was subject to review in 2008 by Dame Nuala O’Loan, who examined the allegations made by a number of organisations in the Outsourcing Abuse report.[3] The UKBA had claimed that the recommendations made following O’Loan’s report[4] were being implemented, and then the death of Jimmy Mubenga reopened the debate about the use of force during deportations.

Criticisms and recommendations

The Committee found that the high ratio of escorts to detainees (where escorts far outnumber detainees) created crowding and placed unnecessary pressure on detainees. And it agreed with the Chief Inspector of Prisons who had described the practice of using ‘reserves’ as ‘objectionable and distressing’, after it was told that in order to maximise occupancy of seats on charter flights, the UKBA used a reserve system where detainees were taken to the airport to fill a vacant place if another detainee’s removal was blocked. In some cases, there were more detainees than there were seats on the flight, and detainees were told to return on another date for his/her deportation flight. The documentation process for those people with medical conditions was found to be inadequate, and escort officers were not adequately briefed on assisting those with medical concerns. The widespread use of racist language towards detainees by contractors was found to be shocking. And records of complaints about ill-treatment by contractors did not include disciplinary action taken over claims that were substantiated. And overall, the UKBA’s monitoring of contractors and complaints was found not to have been sufficiently robust.

The report made a number of recommendations, which include:

  • The use of head-down restraint positions by contractors or a failure to challenge their use should be grounds for dismissal;
  • The use of reserves on enforced removal flights should be discontinued;
  • More comprehensive documentation and more detailed logging of medical conditions of detainees, particularly since restraint techniques may exacerbate underlying medical conditions;
  • The use of racist language by contractors should be challenged and provisions should be made in contracts so that any proven incident of racist language is punishable by a fine;
  • Members of independent monitoring board’s to be given access to chartered removal flights in order to ensure recommendations are being implemented.

This report raises serious concerns about the nature of public/private partnerships, particularly where legal responsibility for malfeasance remains ambiguous, and provides an important assessment of how little practices have changed despite ongoing allegations of abuse and use of force during the deportation process.

Related links

Read an IRR News story: ‘Jimmy Mubenga remembered’

Rules governing enforced removals from the UK, House of Commons Home Affairs Committee can be downloaded here (pdf file, 1.1.mb). [1] G4S lost the contract for 'detainee escorting' to Reliance Security Task Management Ltd., just two weeks after the death of Jimmy Mubenga in October 2010. [2] The UKBA's Detention services operating standards manual for immigration service removal centres can be downloaded here. [3] Outsourcing Abuse, Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice and NCADC, 2008. [4] Baroness Nuala O'Loan, Report to the United Kingdom Border Agency on 'Outsourcing Abuse', UKBA, March 2010. The report can be downloaded here (pdf file, 940kb).

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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