Should more be done to prevent suicides in immigration detention centres?

June 30, 2005 — Comment

Written by Harmit Athwal

After another apparent self-harm death in an immigration detention centre, campaigners are asking whether more should be done to prevent suicides in detention centres.

Over the last few months, the detention of asylum seekers in the UK has been widely criticised for the mental pressures it puts on vulnerable asylum seekers. Most recently, Amnesty International called the practice ‘protracted, inappropriate and disproportionate’.

In the early hours of 27 June 2005, Ramazan Kumluca, a 19-year-old Kurdish asylum seeker, was found hanged in his cell at Campsfield House removal centre. It is believed that Ramazan had been detained for about six months and had made three unsuccessful bail applications. The Independent has reported that Ramazan had been held at the centre for so long that he had been given his own room – very unusual in the ‘detention estate’.

The Home Office has informed his family and asked the Prisons and Probations Service ombudsman to investigate the death. A Home Office spokesperson said that later on the same day as Ramazan’s death there was another ‘incident of self-harm’ and that the asylum seeker is being cared for by staff in the healthcare wing. Campsfield is run by Global Solutions Ltd (GSL), the company which was/is the subject of a number of Prisons and Probations Service ombudsman investigations, as well as a complaint in the UK and Australia for human rights violations in Australian detention centres (see below).

Suicides in immigration removal centres

The Institute of Race Relations, which monitors the deaths of asylum seekers and other foreign nationals in detention, believes this is the first self-harm death of an asylum seeker in an immigration removal centre this year. But it has recorded at least ten* similar cases of self-harm deaths in the past five years. Unfortunately the government’s prison suicides prevention strategy does not extend to detention centres and removal centres. (Read IRR News Story: Failing the vulnerable: the death of ten asylum seekers and other foreign nationals in UK detention)

In February 2005, Lord Herman Ouseley asked the government whether the Prison Service’s suicide prevention strategy applied to immigration detention centres. Baroness Scotland of Asthal replied: ‘The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) have separate procedures that contain elements taken from the Prison Service. Immigration Service removal centres operate under the terms of the Detention Centre Rules 2001. All detainees entering immigration detention are subject to a risk assessment that includes the risks of suicide and self-harm. Anyone who is identified at any point as presenting a risk of suicide will be treated in line with the centre’s suicide and self-harm procedures, which are supported by the IND operating standard on the prevention of suicide and self-harm.’

In the private contractor world, detainees have a price on their head – or rather on their death. According to documents seen by IRR News, suicide prevention is built into performance measures. For companies such as GSL, there is a financial penalty exacted for each ‘successful suicide’. But obviously neither the IND standards nor the financial disincentives are enough to protect asylum seekers.

The commodification of asylum seekers and the incompatibility of private profit and detainee welfare are causing concern to refugee groups. For the government recently abandoned a plan by GSL to build and run an accommodation centre for 750 asylum seekers on a Ministry of Defence site in Bicester. There are now plans to build a removal centre instead. Earlier this week, the Times reported that the government would compensate GSL, with whom they had a contract, for the decision not to build the original accommodation centre on the site. It quoted a GSL spokesperson as saying: ‘We are disappointed by the decision not to proceed but we are encouraged by the consideration being given to the possibility of building a removal centre. We will be seeking recovery of our costs on the project to date.’ A campaigner from the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism observed: ‘There isn’t government money to provide asylum seekers with decent legal aid or money for food or housing but there is money to compensate private companies huge sums. That can’t be right.’

And now, the company is under further attack. On 15 June 2005, five human rights organisations launched a complaint in the United Kingdom and Australia against GSL ‘for complicity in serious human rights violations in Australian immigration detention centres’. The complaint, brought by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), the Human Rights Council of Australia (HRCA), Children Out of Detention (ChilOut) and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, will be taken to a forthcoming meeting in Paris of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They are calling on governments to ensure that companies respect OECD human rights guidelines.

Related links

Read about the International complaint launched against GSL over Australian immigration detention centres

IRR News Story Failing the vulnerable: the death of ten asylum seekers and other foreign nationals in UK detention

National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns

INQUEST

Campaign Against Racism and Fascism

(* This figure includes self-harm deaths of asylum seekers held in prisons)

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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