We Won the PILnet Award for Pro-bono work with DLA Piper!

The Habeas Corpus Project and DLA Piper, an international law firm, were awarded the Public Interest Lawyers Network award at the Pro-Bono Forum in Rome, Italy on 12th November 2015. DLA Piper are our pro bono partners. They have provided invaluable support to our work since the beginning and we look forward to continued parternship througout 2016 and beyond.

Thank you PILnet for hosting us and celebrating our work together!

Here is a short clip of Ousman, the Habeas Corpus Project Director, giving a speech upon receiving the award in Rome (unfortunately, the first half is clipped). Thank you all for your continued support!

Thank You from the Habeas Corpus Project

The Habeas Corpus Project would like to thank all those who generously donated to our project over the last two months.

By July, we were on the brink of being forced to close the project due to lack of funding, but decided to continue operating for as long for as possible. We created a Total Giving webpage with a target of £3,000, enough to cover our costs for the rest of the year.

Our supporters came to the rescue, showing real compassion through our crowdsourcing webpage and anonymous donations. At the time of writing the total amounts to over £14,500.

We are astounded and truly humbled by the kindness of the all those who gave to the Habeas Corpus Project. With your donations we are able to keep on fighting to defend liberty and human rights into 2016.

Thank you.

We are continuing to accept donations through our Indiegogo page:

Peaceful Protest Stamped Out by Riot Police in Yarl’s Wood – Several Injured

In a unique demonstration of solidarity, twenty detained women rallied at Yarl’s Wood to peacefully resist the forced removal of LN, an elderly Kenyan national who had claimed asylum in the UK.

The Habeas Corpus Project was informed of the incident on the 10th April 2015 and attended Yarl’s Wood to take statements from four of the detained protestors.

We can report that on Thursday the 9th of April the women gathered in the bedroom of a detainee, JL, surrounding LN and refusing requests to move.

Immigration officers were brought up to take individual pictures of the women in an attempt to threaten them; telling them that their actions would impact their immigration cases. As a result of these scare tactics some of the detainees left, leaving six women remaining in solidarity with LN.

According to a Home Office report of the incident, the decision was made in conjunction with Home Office Immigration Enforcement to ‘use PPE and appropriate teams to relocate LN to reception and highlighted residents who were non-compliant to Kingfisher unit.’

What this means is that around forty officers in full riot gear were summoned to the room and the adjacent corridor to forcefully remove LN and take the women gathered around her to solitary confinement.

Although the report states that ‘force was used for a short time using approved C&R Techniques’, we have testimony from a number of residents present that indicate that this was not the case.

One officer in particular was recognised by the women we spoke to. In their statements to us, the detainees described how this officer, a guard at Yarl’s Wood, used the sharp edge of his shield to batter the women who were sitting on the bed. They then lay on the bed in an attempt to protect their faces and necks and sustained injuries to their shins and ankles.

This is how one of the women related the event to us:

“Then he started with this shield. Me and [my friend], AR, lay down on the bed and put our legs up because I though he was going to get my face and my neck, and what’s going to happen then? I have bruises all over my legs. AR went to hospital.”

“When he started to beat me with his shield the two male officers came running in because they were scared. I heard other managers and officers start to shout to [this officer]: “You can’t do that – you can only push. You can’t beat them.” And then two officers, without shields, without nothing, came running into the room and took me and AR and dragged us out of the room because they were scared he was going too far.”

Another woman reported that there were three guards to each woman, and that they were pushed to the floor in a manner completely disproportionate to the threat they posed as peaceful protesters.

“Respect. Support. Commitment. That’s our Promise.” Those are the words you can find boldly written across the home page for Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, run by the private security company Serco. They read somewhat ironically in light of this most recent incident which has resulted in six detainees being sent to solitary confinement, two of whom remain there over a week later. These two have been informed that they will remain in solitary confinement until they have been transferred to prison. They have not yet been charged with any crime.

One of the women present involved has a bail hearing soon and is concerned that the incident will negatively impact her chances of being released from detention on bail. ‘We have been described as disruptive.’ she told us, ‘even though we weren’t doing anything. Just sitting and praying. Nobody was fighting. We were not even being disruptive in the first place, so why did they bring all the riot police?’

If the incident was escalated not by the residents of Yarl’s Wood, but by the guards, it would not be right to describe the resident as disruptive in a bail summary and yet the distinction will not be made.

The detainees in Yarl’s Wood are vulnerable women going through a very difficult time in their lives. Many of these women have experienced serious hardships in their lives so far, such as sexual abuse and torture. Serious depression and PTSD are common conditions among the residents, some of whom are even driven to attempt to end their lives whilst in detention.

The Home Office has a duty of care to these women which must not be taken lightly. Blatant bullying and abuse of power such as happened on the 9th of April must not be tolerated because it happens behind closed doors.

Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre Blocks Detainees from Accessing Our Website

Recently we were contacted by one of our clients who is currently being detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Centre in Bedford. She told us that no one could access our website from within the detention centre.

This is a development that has happened since Channel 4 aired an exposé of the inside of Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre using undercover footage filmed by a whistle-blower. The documentary captures the abusive, prison-like conditions in the centre. Guards are heard referring to the detainees as ‘caged animals’ and encouraging each other to ‘hit her with a stick’.

Most of the detainees held at Yarl’s Wood, which is one of the all-female detention centres in the UK, are awaiting the outcome of ongoing asylum claim proceedings. According to the Home Office’s own guidelines, detention is supposed to be only used as a ‘last resort’ and only when removal is ‘imminent’. However, HO statistics released for a report by the pressure group Women for Refugee Women (WRW) has showed that of the 1,867  women who sought asylum and who left detention in 2012, only 36 percent were actually removed from the UK. The rest were released back into the country.

Our organisation, The Habeas Corpus Project, challenges cases where people have been detained unlawfully. This can mean that they have been in detention for too many months, or even years, without having had their case decided. It can also mean that they should never have been detained in the first place, such as victims of torture or the seriously ill.

Cuts to legal aid, coupled with mounting pressure on the Home Office to deal with a backlog of cases, means that many detainees are detained unlawfully and have limited access to justice. We are one of a number of organisations that provide essential assistance to people held in immigration detention centres — making them aware of their rights; providing emotional as well as legal support; ensuring that they have legal representation or, when this is not an option, providing some guidance through the impenetrable maze of immigration laws and procedures.

The day after the release of the Channel 4 documentary on Yarl’s Wood, according to our source, all of the computers for use by detainees within the detention centre were down. When they were working again the internet restrictions had been tightened, preventing detainees from accessing a number of websites, including ours.

The Minister for Modern Day Slavery and Organised Crime, when questioned by the recent parliamentary enquiry into detention, conceded that there was currently no standardised policy on internet access across all Immigration Removal Centres, although a review of access is currently being undertaken.

Explaining the process of restricting access for detainees, the Minister told the inquiry panel that: “Suppliers operating IRCs on behalf of the Home Office use specialised software which screens out prohibited categories of sites or sites whose addresses contain prohibited key words rather than blocking individual website addresses.”
“Prohibited categories are based on safety and security concerns, for example potential terrorist or pornographic sites.

Speaking to our source within Yarl’s Wood, we were able to confirm that access was denied to a number of sites including, but not limited to: The Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, Detention Action, Asylum Welcome, Samphire Project, Right to Remain, Kent Refugee Help and the Habeas Corpus Project.

Detainees are prevented from filling out online forms on the website for Medical Justice, which is the only UK organisation that arranges for independent volunteer doctors to visit men, women and children in immigration detention to assess and document scars of torture.

In these examples, it is hard to see how the sites fell within the prohibited categories supposed to be blocked by the software. None of them constitutes a potential threat to safety or security.

Even some solicitors’ firms websites were blocked. For example, when trying to access the page for Hayat & Co Solicitors, who specialise in immigration law, our client was faced with the following message:

The link you are accessing has been blocked by the Barracuda Web Filter because it is blacklisted by your system administrator. The comment from the system administrator is: N/A

If you believe this is an error or need to access this link, please contact your administrator.

Our source did contact the administrator as well as a member of the centre staff who made a note of her complaint on a notepad and told her to contact the Independent Monitoring Board for Yarl’s Wood. A formal complaint was subsequently made by our client on the 16th March, but nothing has been heard since.

One wonders how many websites of such critical importance to the individual incarcerated in Yarl’s Wood could have been blocked. If the third party suppliers operating for the detention centres use software that prohibits key words and categories, one can only speculate as to the words they felt necessary to block following the documentary: ‘Unlawful Detention’? ‘Human Rights’?

Ultimately, these are vulnerable people, who in their moment of greatest need and isolation, have had their last resource taken away from them. For whatever reason might be given for these restrictions being put in place, considering the consequences, they are completely unjustifiable.

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.

Kings Cross Office

The Habeas Corps Project has secured an office lease at 78 Cromer Steet, London, WC1H 8DR near to Kings Cross Station. We aim to be operational at this office by the end of July 2014. Please stand by for further launch updates!