A review of detention in the UK in 2004


by Bill MacKeith

Fire and racism at Yarl's Wood: reports published

Two reports on events at Yarl's Wood detention centre near Bedford were published by the prison ombudsman Stephen Shaw. The first found that the accounts of racism among guards exposed by a Daily Mirror journalist, who worked in the centre soon after it reopened in late 2003, were true, but there was no proof of institutional or systematic racism.

The same inconsistency between evidence in the body of the report and the conclusions drawn at the end was to be found in the second report, into the fire on 14 February 2002, published in November. Shaw found the government's deportations policy as implemented at Yarl's Wood to be impracticable and unattainable. The reports' overall failure to address major issues will be exposed by the Stop Arbitrary Detention at Yarl's Wood, which will continue to campaign for a full public inquiry.

Four immigration detainees commit suicide in 2004

On 19 July Sergey Barnuyck (31), a Ukrainian, hung himself in Harmondsworth. His death triggered mass protests and the closure of the centre. Four days later, Vietnamese Tung Wang (22) hung himself in Dungavel after being moved from Harmondsworth. On 15 October, Kenyan John Kanau Manana (24) hanged himself in Leicester prison. Then on 7 November Kenny Peter, from Liberia or Nigeria, died in Charing Cross Hospital from injuries inflicted on himself three weeks earlier in the newly opened Colnbrook.

Assaults on detainees

The Medical Foundation published a report, Harm on Removal: Excessive Force against Failed Asylum Seekers, in October. The report documents 14 cases in which excessive force was used against asylum seekers during the process of forcible removal from the UK. http://www.torturecare.org.uk/publications/reportAsylum.htm

Detainees continue to protest against detention Harmondsworth was closed following a mass protest in July. There was a mass hunger strike at Haslar. Many more individual and group protests went unreported.

The UK's detention centres

As of January 2005 there are 2,644 places in centres dedicated to imprisoning immigration detainees. The government, which inherited 700 places when it took office in 1997, aims for a total of 4,000 places.

At Yarl's Wood (reopened in part in late 2003 after the 2002 fire) a 250-plus "family unit" was due to open around the end of the year. Government plans to enlarge Campsfield from 184 to 290 places hit a snag when the relevant parish, city, district and county councils in Oxfordshire all rejected the planning application and called for Campsfield to be closed. The new 326-place Colnbrook detention centre opened on 30th August alongside Harmondsworth by Heathrow airport: based on high-security category B prison design it has wings running into a central area and is run by Premier Detention Services (Serco), who run Dungavel in Ayrshire. Government announced plans to expand Oakington near Cambridge - due to close in 2006, and run like Campsfield, Yarl's Wood, and Tinsley (Gatwick) by Global Solutions/GSL (sold off in the summer by Group4 Falck). Detention centres in former prisons Dover, Haslar (Gosport, Hants) and Lindholme (Yorkshire) are run by the Prison Service under detention centre rules.

Detainees in prison

After the 19 July protest/riot at Harmondsworth, 194 detainees were moved to prisons, to join 200 immigration detainees already in prisons on that date. At the 2001 Labour Party Home Secretary David Blunkett promised to stop jailing immigration detainees in prisons: the practice, he said, was "a scandal which should never have happened - it is time that it was over".†

Women and children in detention

In September Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and Asylum Aid published a report They Took Me Away on detention of women, focusing on violent treatment during deportations, length of detention, and failure to meet specific needs of women. Children continued to be detained at Dungavel and Oakington and at Yarl's Wood a 250-plus "family unit" was due to open around the end of the year.

Detention and deportation: priorities for the prime minister A year ago Tony Blair declared that immigration was the number one political issue. In November the Guardian published a series of emails from him insisting that the deportation of asylum seekers to Egypt should go ahead despite the lack of assurances that they would be safe, and in the face of objections from Jack Straw about UN Convention obligations.

Earlier Tony Blair gave an unprecedented interview in a local Oxfordshire paper to insist that a 750-place accommodation centre for asylum seekers would go ahead near Bicester whatever opposition there was from local people. (The government has already overturned the recommendation of a public inquiry inspector that it should not.) Detailed plans are currently being considered by Cherwell District Council (the same one that has also called for Campsfield's closure)


Law Lords and the progressive great and good agree that it is wrong to lock up 12 "suspected terrorists" in Belmarsh and elsewhere. Where are they when the same injustice is meted out to some 20,000 immigration detainees each year? Campaigns continue round Dungavel, Campsfield, Yarl's Wood, Dover. Outside Tinsley detention centre at Gatwick the first-ever anti-detention demonstration took place outside in October.

The Barbed Wire Britain Network to End Refugee and Migrant Detention links these local campaigners, arranges six-monthly meetings with concerned MPs, publishes the collection Voices From Detention. With the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns it organised a workshop on detention and deportation at the European Social Forum in London in November attended by over 100 people.

2 April 2005: Second European Day of Actions for Migrant Rights At the European Social Forum, the network was one of the organisations that secured backing for a call for a Second European Day of Actions for Migrants' Rights and against Racism, to be on 2nd April 2005 (the First European Day was on 31st January 2004 and saw over 50 actions across Europe).

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