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Thank You to 'We Welcome You' for the Support

We would like to thank ‘We Welcome You’, not only for their generous donation to the Habeas Corpus Project yesterday, but also for their outstanding work over the past few years.

‘We Welcome You’ is a project to raise money and awareness in support of migrants and refugees in the UK. Having volunteered for various migrants rights organisations in London, Tamsin and Totes were concerned by the hostile rhetoric emerging amidst the so called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015. The two friends made a handful of bags and and a little zine filled with ideas of how to support migrants locally, and facts about immigration in the UK. The money that they raised through selling these has been put into organisations that support migrants and refugees. They also hope that by using and wearing these bags, ‘We Welcome You’ supporters will form the basis of a visible network of people who are proud to support migration to the UK.

We encourage our readers to help support ‘We Welcome You’ by visiting their website and buying one of their bags and/or zines over here.

 

We Are Looking for New Trustees: Apply Now!

join us large 2The Habeas Corpus Project has marked one full year since it was officially established as a charity. In one year we have managed to achieve so much including:

  • Providing free legal representation to over 80 immigration detainees
  • Securing the release of over 15 detainees
  • Winning pro-bono costs orders against the Secretary of State for our litigation in 4 cases
  • Establishing a strong pro-bono partnership with DLA Piper (one of the world’s largest law firms) and receiving an award from the Public Interest Lawyers Network annual awards in Rome, Italy for our partnership.
  • Establishing a strong reputation built on trust amongst detainees in several Immigration Removal Centre including Yarl’s Wood
  • Being interviewed by the BBC for one of our cases and being reported in the Independent and Law Society Gazette
  • Securing a long-lasting lease for our office premises at 78 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DR
  • Applying pressure on the Home Office to improve communication and access to lawyers in Yarl’s Wood
  • Securing over £25,000 in donations in our first 12 months, placing us in a strong position going forward in to 2016.
  • Developing strong administrative and litigation protocols for continued work in the future.
  • Hosting a training event at SOAS: University of London on unlawful detention with full capacity attendance
  • A portfolio of over 10 part-time volutneers assisting the charity over the past year, with 5 who continue in to 2016.

The Habeas Corpus Project currently has only 3 Trustees. The Chair of Trustees is Ousman Noor who will soon be transferred to become a full time Director of the charity.

We are looking to recruit two new trustees to join us. Whilst the role will be unpaid, you will be a part of this team and help lead us to exciting new frontiers. Here are some details:

Roles and Responsibilities of a Trustee

Note: The role of a Trustee is not a ‘full-time’ job, it will largely be done remotely, by telephone and email. Trustees can expect to dedicate around 4-8 hours of their time per month to the role. The role is unpaid, save for any expenses incurred as part of your role and only if agreed by the other Trustees. 

  • Meet with the other Trustees at least once every 8 weeks at our office – meetings to be organised by the Director
  • To ensure that the charity is carrying out its purpose for the public benefit
  • Comply with the charity’s governing constitution
  • Act in the charity’s best interests
  • Help promote the effective management of the charity’s resources
  • Ensure that the charity is kept accountable
  • Use your skill and experience to help guide and advise the charity on key issues when necessary
  • Develop strong relationships with relevant individuals and organisations to the charity’s benefit
  • Be available and responsive to the Director in relation to charity activities and affairs when necessary

Benefits of Being a Trustee

  • Be a part of an exciting and ambitious team creating radical positive change in the field of immigration detention
  • Use your skill and experience to shape the future of the Habeas Corpus Project
  • Have your name and profile on our website as one of our Trustees
  • Be invited to take part in our future events (in the UK and abroad)
  • Meet new people (us!) and make a difference together

Ideal Candidate

The ideal candidate for this position will have:

  • Experience in law/human rights and/or issues relating to immigration detention
  • Experience working with charities either as trustee or an employee of one
  • Willingness to dedicate time to improving the charity either through meetings, advice, guidance and/or facilitating new contacts or funding opportunities
  • Be based in or near London, or otherwise be able to come to our office in Central London for Trustee meetings when required
  • Be responsive to the emails/phone calls of the Director as and when required
  • Believe in and respect the core ideals of the charity i.e. access to justice, challenging unlawful detention and promoting fairness in the law.

Candidates must not:

  • have an unspent conviction for an offence involving dishonesty or deception (such as fraud)
  • are bankrupt or have entered into a formal arrangement (eg an individual voluntary arrangement) with a creditor
  • have been removed as a company director or charity trustee because of wrongdoing

How to Apply

If you are interested please do let us know by emailing us at [email protected] We will arrange a short telephone conversation followed by an informal interview at our office in central London, 78 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DR.

Deadline: 29th January 2016 (but please apply as soon as possible!).

Thank you to all!

Six Lawyers Unlawfully Blocked From Entering Yarl's Wood Detention Centre

We are outraged by events at Yarl’s Wood IRC today, where six of our volunteer lawyers were deliberately barred from entering the detention centre without lawful explanation.

The lawyers travelled from London to Yarl’s Wood to make a legal visit with our clients in detention. They had gone to the expense of renting a minibus and sacrificing the entire working day to volunteer their expertise to the Habeas Corpus Project and provide assistance to six different detained ladies held in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

On arrival at Yarl’s Wood, the immigration department refused to allow the lawyers entry to the detention centre. The appointments had been booked 48 hours in advance and fully complied with detention centre rules.

These actions show an alarming disregard for access to justice and accountability.

We have just made a full complaint to the Home Office. Please see a copy of the full complaint with full facts below:

 

COMPLAINT

Dear Home Office Complaints Department,

My name is Ousman Noor, barrister and Director of the Habeas Corpus Project, an entity authorised regulated by the Bar Standards Board and professionally insured by the Bar Mutual to provide legal advice and representation to immigration detainees in challenging instances of unlawful detention on a pro-bono basis. Our charity registration number is 1159689 and company registration number is 09390086. Our address for correspondence is 78 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DR and email at

I am writing to make a complaint and seek £7,298 damages for an incident that occurred on 26th November 2015 at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. I request that a response is provided immediately and, in any event, not later than 20 days from today i.e. by 17th December 2015

Facts

The Habeas Corpus Project had been contacted by telephone by a number of detainees within Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Amongst the detainees that contacted us were:

  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>

Each of these individuals was being detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre and had sent us various documents relating to their cases. They sought our legal assistance to gain a clearer understanding of their rights in immigration detention.

In order to provide such assistance, the Habeas Corpus Project determined it necessary to arrange in-person legal interviews with each of these clients. The purpose of the interviews was to collect evidence from each individual and take copies of any necessary documentation relating to their detention status. Such interviews are necessary in order for the Habeas Corpus Project to determine whether or not we are able to make legal representations on their behalf.

The Habeas Corpus Project has pro-bono partnerships with a network of qualified solicitors, themselves regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. These solicitors assist the Habeas Corpus Project with elements of our case-work and client interviews on a pro-bono basis.

On Tuesday 24th November 2015, the Habeas Corpus Project booked appointments by telephone with Yarl’s Wood IRC for legal interviews to take place between 13:30 – 15:30 on Thursday 26th November 2015. The interviews were booked for each of the 6 detainees named above to take place with 6 qualified solicitors.

The names and dates of birth of each solicitor were provided to Yarl’s Wood IRC and the corresponding names of the detained individuals were also provided. The appointments were duly booked and confirmed by telephone.

On the morning of 26th November 2015, the 6 solicitors booked transportation in order to take them to Yarl’s Wood IRC in order to conduct the legal interviews. As per the guidance provided on the Yarl’s Wood website and within the Detention Services Order 04/2012 (“Visits DSO”), each solicitor took with them an ID and a letter of introduction from the Habeas Corpus Project with a letterhead containing our contact details and the names of the individual detainees who they were visiting.

The solicitors arrived at Yarl’s Wood at 13:45, checked in at the reception and completed Section 84 forms. Upon doing so, a person named Dave Lancaster, who described himself as the Visiting Manager at Yarl’s Wood, informed the solicitors that they would not be allowed in to conduct a legal visit. The explanation given was that each solicitor needed a signed form of authority from each detainee permitting them to visit them. When challenged why this was the case, Dave Lancaster said that he had spoken to Jose Domingos, the Deputy Manager for the Home Office at Yarl’s Wood.

One of the solicitors telephoned me to inform me that this had happened. I asked to speak to Dave Lancaster who then repeated that he had been told by Jose Domingos that the solicitors would not be allowed in. I requested that I be given the telephone number for Jose Domingos in order to speak to him directly. Dave Lancaster repeatedly told me that he would not give me Jose Domingo’s phone number and that I may only call the Yarl’s Wood switchboard.

Following that advice I called the Yarl’s Wood switchboard three times, but no one answered on each attempt. Fortunately, I found in my records the telephone number for the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Department. Despite Dave Lancaster refusing to give me this number, I was able to call it and get through to Jose Domingos only due to my own records.

Upon connecting to Jose Domingos at approximately 15:15 I explained that 6 solicitors had arrived in Yarl’s Wood with booked appointments to see 6 detainees. I explained that each solicitor had an ID and a letter of introduction. Jose told me that he would not allow these solicitors in to the legal visit centre because ‘they did not have signed forms of authority from each individual detainee allowing them to visit’. I informed Jose Domingos that (a) the Yarl’s Wood website says that they only need a letter of introduction (b) that I had personally conducted many legal visits at Yarl’s Wood without a signed form of authority (often, the whole purpose of going to Yarl’s Wood is to get a signed a form of authority!) (c) the Detention Centre Rules 2001 do not say that a signed form of authority from the detained client is necessary in order to conduct a legal visit.

Despite all of the above, Jose continued to refuse to allow these 6 solicitors in to Yarl’s Wood. He kept on insisting that ‘the rules’ do not allow entry unless they have a signed form of authority from each client. I asked Jose which rules he was referring to. He did not refer to a single written rule, policy or regulation but simply said ‘those are the rules’. I repeatedly asked Jose to clarify where these ‘rules’ were contained, but he repeatedly refused to explain and kept repeating that ‘these are the rules’. I explained to Jose that the solicitors had incurred great time and expense in coming today and that all the formalities had been complied with. Nonetheless, he continued to refuse to let them in.

Jose then said that the solicitors would be welcome to conduct social visits if they pleased. However, I was simultaneously told that there was no space in the social visit area and that social visits would not be permitted that day. Jose therefore knew that the effect of his decision was to deny any contact between the detained individuals and the solicitors on that day. He also knew that our expenses in coming to Yarl’s Wood would be wasted. Jose then explained that I was welcome ‘to make a complaint and claim back any expenses from the Home Office if I wished’

Prior to speaking to Jose myself, one of the 6 solicitors who attended Yarl’s Wood had also spoken to Jose by telephone whilst still at the centre. This solicitor also asked Jose which rule he was relying upon to refuse them entry. Jose again repeated that ‘these are the rules’ and said that they would not be allowed in.

The solicitor who spoke directly to Jose asked for his reasons for refusal to be provided to us in writing. Jose confirmed that he would not be willing to provide confirmation of his decision in writing. Due to this refusal I made a voice recording of my telephone conversation with him for my own records, which is available should it be needed as part of any investigation. I informed Jose that I had recorded the telephone conversation and that it would be used to form this complaint. Jose acknowledged that I had explained this to him.

The solicitors were required to leave Yarl’s Wood and make the 2 hour journey back to London without conducting any interviews.

 

Detention Services Order 04/2012 (“Visit DSO) and Yarl’s Wood published policy for legal visits

Paragraph 9 of the Detention Services Order 04/2012 (“Visit DSO”) states:

Legal representatives wishing to visit detainees must make an appointment with the IRC. On arrival, legal representatives must provide one of the following:

– identity card issued by their firm or chambers

– introductory letter on headed paper from their firm or chambers which must contain a contact number and name the detainee(s) to be visited.

The Yarl’s Wood IRC website at http://www.yarlswood.co.uk/book-a-visit repeats the same provisions in relation to conducting legal visits:

Legal representatives wishing to visit detainees must make an appointment with the Immigration Removal Centre. On arrival, legal representatives must provide one of the following:

 

– Identity card issued by their firm or chambers

– Introductory letter on headed paper from their firm or chambers which must contain a contact number and name the residents(s) to be visited.

 

Complaint & Damages

We complied with all formalities in booking the interviews, bringing the relevant ID and introductory letter as prescribed on the Yarl’s Wood website. We incurred enormous expense in arranging for the 6 solicitors to attend Yarl’s Wood and pay for transportation to the centre.

We have been unlawfully prevented from conducting interviews with the 6 ladies named above. No reference to any regulation, policy and law was cited by either Dave Lancaster or Jose Domingos for why the solicitors could not enter. The formalities contained within the Detention Services Order 04/2012 and on the Yarl’s Wood website had all been complied with. The manner of speaking to us was bitter, targeted and upsetting.

The incident was deeply frustrating for us, our 6 solicitors and the 6 detainees who were being visited, each of whom were denied access to justice and right to speak to a lawyer. As a pro-bono organisation that operates on good-will and volunteerism from professionals we simply cannot afford to book another visit to Yarl’s Wood. There was no excuse for denying the Yarl’s Wood detainees from accessing justice, especially in such a blunt, hurtful and wasteful way.

Apart from a full apology from both Dave Lancaster and Jose Dominos, we seek the following damages:

As a result of the refusal, we incurred 6 hours of wasted time per solicitor. This includes 2 hour journey each way from Central London and the 2 hour wait time in Yarl’s Wood IRC in which both Dave Lancaster and Jose Domingos refused to allow them to enter. Our offices are within the WC1 post code. According to Practice Direction 13 of the Supreme Court Rules, the permissible costs per hour for their time is £193/hour. With a total of 6 hours of wasted time for each of the 6 solicitors, this calculates to £6,948 of wasted costs. In addition, the cost of transportation to and from Yarl’s Wood was £350. In total, as a result of the unfair and unlawful denial of entry of these solicitors in to the detention centre, we seek damages of £7,298.

As set out in the introduction, we request an immediate response to this complaint and, in any event, by 17th December 2015 at the latest.

Yours faithfully

Ousman Noor, Barrister & Director

Habeas Corpus Project

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:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/challenge-illegal-detention-of-migrants-refugees#/story

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.