Inspectors from the Independent Monitoring Board ('IMB') at Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre ('HIRC') have issued their report covering 2016. Thanks to the Immigration Lawyers Practitioners Association for circulating it.
The IMB report shines a spotlight on the often miserable conditions for some 1,000 detainees being held each month under immigration powers at the HIRC, during a year that was heavily blighted by 2 deaths in detention there.
Some of the incidents described are deeply disturbing:
"Case Study 1 – Mr A arrived at Harmondsworth in August 2015. He struggled to integrate into the regime, and was unable to adequately care for himself. In particular, his personal hygiene became problematic. The situation was allowed to deteriorate and he was found by the IMB, in early 2016, to be living in what could only be described as squalid conditions. Once the issue had been highlighted he was re-housed in the enhanced care units at both Harmondsworth and Colnbrook between February and early July when he was discharged to an external medical facility. (emphasis added)"
There is a troubling lack of accountability for such vulnerable persons who have been left in deplorable conditions and been unable to access basic care and support, let alone legal advice.
There are suggestions of inexcusable incompetence by one of the Home Office contractors running the facility, Tascor:
"Case Study 4 – Mr D was taken to Heathrow airport on a stretcher, but was refused clearance at the airport by airport security as it appears that Tascor had not liaised with the airport authorities about the needs of the detainee. This resulted in the detainee being returned to the IRC and missing his flight."
Attention is also paid to the systemic difficulties faced by those in detention. The procedure for identifying claimed victims of torture, (known as 'Rule 35') is under considerable strain:
"Average wait times throughout the year have been around 2 weeks, although maximum wait times have exceeded a month on occasions, which is unacceptable."
Bearing in mind the current government's intention (as reflected in both policy and statute) is to, in the main, swiftly identify and avoid the detention of claimed torture victims due to the disproportionate impact of detention on their health, "unacceptable" puts it rather mildly. It is inevitable that in some cases the Rule 35 backlog is simply prolonging the unlawful detention of highly vulnerable persons. And this appalling state of affairs has been normalised.
The inspectors' detailed recommendations include:
"… a controlled facility for detainees to use Skype or other similar low/zero cost communication tools, to enable detainees to more effectively stay in touch with family and friends whilst in detention
a review system, independent of the immigration authorities, for all cases where detention exceeds 6 months. This would ensure that detention cannot become extended without independent scrutiny. IRCs were only designed for short stays of up to three months and the facilities and levels of care reflect this. The environment is not acceptable for prolonged stays.
[Segregation] should not be used to house difficult individuals with mental health conditions. They are vulnerable and confinement is not a humane way to address the problems they experience. Home Office should consider undertaking a review of the scale of this issue across the Immigration Detention Estate and consider alternative options to managing their detention so that they receive better specialised care for their specific needs. (page 4)"
Although the IMB report stops short of recommending a 28-day time limit on detention, it notes that the United Nations has called on the UK to implement such a limit and the report underscores the unacceptable nature of prolonged detention in strong language.
Whether the Home Office will listen is another matter. Previously, the government has rejected 44 percent of the IMB's recommendations.