Immigration detention centre will close after filthy conditions exposed

June 9, 2009 at 6:52 pm Leave a comment

ukborderagency
by Yepoka Yeebo

An immigration centre labelled ‘dirty’ and ‘inadequate’ will close within two years, the Minister for Borders and Immigration, Phil Woolas, revealed in a debate on Monday.

This comes after a report by the Independent Monitoring Board, released last week, found one shower for every 86 detainees at Oakington Immigration Removal Centre.

“In light of recent decisions to grant planning permission for a new centre at Bullingdon in Oxfordshire and at Bedford… a decision has recently been taken that Oakington will close within the next two years,” said Mr Woolas.

“Improvements and upgrades in the services and facilities provided will continue throughout this year, which will directly benefit the detainees.”

Mr Woolas promised refurbished bathrooms and a bigger arts and crafts room.

A BBC documentary filmed guards boasting about racially abusing and beating up asylum seekers.

The centre was also the subject of a High Court battle about the legal basis for imprisoning asylum seekers.

Dianne Abbott, who raised the issue, told the Commons her chief concerns were the lack of adequate health care for asylum seekers with HIV/Aids and mental health problems; and the lack of access to legal advice.

“The Refugee Council is concerned about the inadequate access to legal services, which can lead detainees to be detained for longer than is necessary because they are unable to apply for their right to bail,” she said.

The Labour MP for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said embattled managers at the centre rejected the findings of the report by prison inspectors.

“Whenever I raised specific points from the inspector’s report, I was greeted with excuses,” said Ms Abbott of a recent visit.

“I asked why the incidents of self-harm had risen and I was told that the centre was getting more distressed detainees. I asked why half the detainees said that they did not feel safe in the centre and Colin Hodgkins [the manager] said that there were problems with the inspectorate’s methodology.”

“Not even Penny Lambert, who is supposed to be the chair of the independent monitoring board, was prepared to admit that something had gone seriously wrong at management level,” said Ms Abbott.

“Instead, what I found was a distinctly defensive attitude and a rejection of what the prison inspector’s report had said.

“As a result of [the BBC] documentary, 15 members of staff were suspended. An inquiry conducted by the prison ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, found a subculture of racism, casual violence and abuse, which he described as a “subculture of nastiness”.

“I was shocked to find that the very same G4 security manager who was in charge of Oakington at the time of the BBC documentary is still in place.”

Mr Woolas said the government had no choice but to lock asylum seekers up: “Detention is an essential part of the Government’s commitment to operate a firm but fair immigration and asylum policy by assisting us to remove those who do not qualify for leave to remain here and who refuse to leave the UK voluntarily or who would otherwise abscond.”

Although he welcomed the report, the immigration minister pointed out that Oakington had made marked improvements: “notably a dramatic reduction in the number of escapes and efficient and friendly reception procedures.”

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