Author Archives: Bethan Rogers

January 2015: Academic Publications on Unlawful Detention

Our first of regular updates on recent academic articles from around the world on unlawful immigration detention. The following portfolio is compiled by Stephanie Silverman as part of the Detention Workshop, an academic discussion group on immigration detention.

Anderson, S. and J. Ferng (2014). “No Boat: Christmas Island and the Architecture of Detention.” Architectural Theory Review 18 (02): 212 – 226.

This article uses Christmas Island as a site to discuss the contested history of Australian immigration in terms of the built environment. Offshore detention centres and the political systems for detaining asylum seekers pose substantial demands of institutional design, control of populations, and psychic anxieties associated with the arrival of foreigners. Systems of detention are explored through the topics of territory, human labour, boats as visual signs, and the buildings constructed to house detainees. Entangled orders of security expose detention as a timely subject for architectural intervention and commentary.

Athwal, H. (2015). “‘I don’t have a life to live’: deaths and UK detention.” Race & Class 56 (03): 50 – 68.

The Institute of Race Relations has over the last twenty-three years been monitoring the 508 deaths in custody in suspicious circumstances of individuals from BME, migrant and refugee communities, which rarely make the headlines and for which no person is ever convicted (to be published as the report Dying for Justice). Here, in an extract, the author examines the culture of racism and the impact of privatisation and sub-contracting in the detention and deportation of ‘failed’ asylum seekers. In case after case it exposes how the vulnerable, mentally- and physically-ill are neglected – leading to deaths by self-harm and inadequate treatment. The death during deportation of Joy Gardner, which involved disproportionate and reckless use of force, is examined in depth. The use of equipment of control for those who are clearly fearful of being forcibly returned, remains a vexed issue.

Cabot, J. A. (2014). “Problems Faced by Mexican Asylum Seekers in the United States.” Journal on Migration and Human Security 2(04): 361 – 377.

Violence in Mexico rose sharply in response to President Felipe Calderón’s military campaign against drug cartels which began in late 2006. As a consequence, the number of Mexicans who have sought asylum in the United States has grown significantly. In 2013, Mexicans made up the second largest group of defensive asylum seekers (those in removal proceedings) in the United States, behind only China (EOIR 2014b). Yet between 2008 and 2013, the grant rate for Mexican asylum seekers in immigration court fell from 23 percent to nine percent (EOIR 2013, 2014b).

This paper examines—from the perspective of an attorney who represented Mexican asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas—the reasons for low asylum approval rates for Mexicans despite high levels of violence in and flight from Mexico from 2008 to 2013. It details the obstacles faced by Mexican asylum seekers along the US-Mexico border, including placement in removal proceedings, detention, evidentiary issues, narrow legal standards, and (effectively) judicial notice of country conditions in Mexico. The paper recommends that asylum seekers at the border be placed in affirmative proceedings (before immigration officials), making them eligible for bond. It also proposes increased oversight of immigration judges.

Noferi, M. L. (2014). “Making Civil Immigration Detention ‘Civil,’ and Examining the Emerging U.S. Civil Detention Paradigm.” Journal of Civil Rights & Economic Development 27: 101 – 154.

In 2009, the Obama Administration began to reform its sprawling immigration detention system by asking the question, “How do we make civil detention civil?” Five years later, after opening an explicitly-named “civil detention center” in Texas to public criticism from both sides, the Administration’s efforts have stalled. But its reforms, even if fully implemented, would still resemble lower-security criminal jails.

This symposium article is the first to comprehensively examine the Administration’s efforts to implement “truly civil” immigration detention, through new standards, improved conditions, and greater oversight. It does so by undertaking the first descriptive comparison of the U.S.’s two largest civil detention systems — immigration detention and sex offender civil commitment — to ascertain the value of the “civil” label of detention reform. It finds the emerging civil detention paradigm to be an incarcerative model presuming round-the-clock confinement but with lower security, as well as increasing, near-criminal procedural protections. Thus, the “civil” label of reform has little meaning, either to the individual’s deprivation of liberty or the expressive message communicated. More meaningful and more “civil” reform would be to implement a system that detains less, not just better. Looking forward, I offer a prescriptive framework for a civil detention system — one that detains far less frequently, for shorter periods, and in non-secure facilities not constituting “detention” as traditionally conceived.

Private Contractor, Tascor, criticised for treatment of undocumented migrants

The Habeas Corpus Project has noticed yet another disturbing news story regarding those firms which hold Home Office contracts for running the immigration detention system in this country; and yet again this is a story which has been ignored by the main stream daily publications.

But it has been picked up in the latest issue of Private Eye and they have published a short article about it in their ‘In The Back’ section which we would urge you to read.

The story is this – The company, Tascor, which is a subsidiary of Capita, currently holds a 4 year, £120 million contract to remove undocumented migrants from detention centres. The conduct of their staff has been strongly criticized by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick in a recent report. This has revealed that the staff were often found to be snoozing for long periods whilst on shift. But of more concerning is the revelation that they have a practice of “lying to detainees by telling them they are going to be deported and taking them to the airport, when actually they are merely ‘reserves’ to fill any last minute gaps and were likely to be returning to detention.”

Mr Hardwick is quoted as saying “those managing the operations did not appear to understand the traumatic effect which the reserve system has on detainees or that it may exacerbate the risk of self harm.”

Capita have responded by blaming their staff for failing to adhere to correct shift patterns, however they have completely failed to say anything about the abuse of the reserve system.

This is a very worrying report, made all the more so by the fact that it has received minimal publicity. The Habeas Corpus Project located an article from the Guardian in June which goes into further details about the abuses witness and reported by Mr Hardwick but no where is there an update on work has been undertaken by Tascor to improve the conduct of the staff. It seems that reports on the abuses of power by companies like Tascor, Serco and G4S are ten a penny these days with barely a whimper of protest from the media or the politicians.

In the light of this, we would urge those reading to write to their local MPs and ask what action has been taken since Nick Hardwick’s report was published and what changes have been made by Tascor and Capita.

Report on Yarl’s Wood detention centre calls into question the quality of care provided by Serco

Following on from last week’s blog post on concerns raised in the British Medical Journal about failings in mental health care provided in detention centres, the Habeas Corpus Project wishes to draw attention to a report in the Independent. This article focuses on Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre which houses mainly women and has a capacity of 405 people, and which is run by Serco. The author interviews inmates, former staff and Serco representatives in an attempt to establish whether things have improved since Serco took over in 2007.

Worryingly, it seems that despite a 2013 report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, which concluded that progress was being made at the centre, journalists are not welcomed by Serco at Yarl’s Wood and the author is required to enter under the guise of a social visit. This does little to allay fears that Serco may have something to hide about the manner in which detainees are treated in their facility.  Conversations with two detainees would seem to confirm these fears, as both make allegations of profound failings in the provision of medical care.

The Habeas Corpus Project would remind readers that this is a centre where it is estimated by Women for Refugee Women that a third of all inmates suffer from mental health conditions. The writer goes on to mention that “ the Independent Monitoring Board has also identified a worrying new phenomenon at Yarl’s Wood: the detention of women with serious mental health issues straight from the airport”. An interview with a former mental health nurse at the centre reveals that detainees “may be at risk…because guards lack the proper training to spot the danger signs or are reluctant to raise the alarm by filling in the right forms for fear of “clogging up the system”. He states that there is a presumption that inmates often lie about conditions in an attempt to stay longer in the UK.

This damning assessment is corroborated by Medical Justice who state that “We are deeply concerned about the failures by detention centre healthcare units to identify vulnerable detainees, whose health is likely to deteriorate in detention. Our doctors frequently see detainees whose medical needs are not identified and whose health deteriorates dramatically as a result.”

The Serco contract to run Yarl’s Wood ends out next year. The Habeas Corpus Project notes that during the time they have been in control there have been seemingly frequent accusations of serious failings in medical care, both physical and mental, as well as staff being disciplined for ‘inappropriate behaviour’ towards detainees.  How many more damning reports must there be before the contract is taken away? The Habeas Corpus Project hopes that the government will robustly scrutinize the actions of this secretive multinational company in the coming months.

Painting by Lucy Edkins titled “From Torture Fled, to Torture” from the Immigration Detention Series

British Medical Journal Calls For Drastic Improvement In Mental Health Care In Immigration Detention Centres

Immigration detention is a worryingly shadowy area of the UK detention network. It is an area that few people are fully aware of and most people would rather forget exists. We, as a nation, prefer not to be reminded of the fact that of the people detained by the Government not all are convicted or suspected criminals or perhaps insane and detained for their own protection or that others, some are detained because they are failed asylum seekers. In 2012, 29000 people entered immigration detention to be held for varying lengths of time. Amongst those people will have been victims of torture, victims of rape, people suffering for PTSD, people with a myriad of mental health conditions, often stemming from their experiences that caused them to leave their home countries.

So how does the immigration detention system in the UK help or support such individuals? Are G4S, Serco and the Prison Service, who between them control the ten detention centres in the UK meeting the medical needs of such a disparate and troubled group? Perhaps unsurprisingly the answer is somewhat negative. On 11th November, the British Medical Journal published a damning article that warned that doctors treating those within the system were at risk of becoming complicit “in a system that prioritises deterrence over protection of refugees and asylum seekers.”

The article notes that not only do those with pre-existing conditions go untreated but the hopeless and uncertain environment in which detainees are placed often results in them developing mental health disorders and self harm levels have reached terrifying heights.

The Habeas Corpus Project finds that the most concerning part of all this is that it is not the first time these failings have been hi-lighted and yet absolutely no improvement appears to have occurred. The article notes that in November 2013, NHS England and the Home Office gave an assurance that NHS England would actively promote the rights and standards guaranteed by the NHS Constitution and states “We now call on NHS England to ensure that detainees are screened for mental health problems and that all facilities under its umbrella maintain the standards of care expected of the NHS.”

The Habeas Corpus Project applaud the medical professionals who contributed to this article and urges them to continue publicising this issue and to ensure that the care of these vulnerable people no longer remains a forgotten footnote in the NHS system.