Archive for February, 2011

New blog!

Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, 27 February, 2011 by bristolnoborders

We have a lovely new blog and are in the process of “migrating” to it

Greek Hunger Strikers On The Edge…Act Now !

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, 23 February, 2011 by bristolnoborders


Medical report

22nd February 2011

The hunger strikers have been refusing to eat for 29 days now. All of them are suffering considerable loss of body mass and

the signs of fatigue and advanced exhaustion are apparent.

Four people have been hospitalized for having lost consciousness.

The majority show symptoms of frequently recurring postural hypotension, muscle pain, hypoglycemia,

difficulty with moving, while some of them already have palpitations and cardiac dysrhythmia.

As doctors we are obliged to note that the hunger strikers are entering a phase where the continuation of fasting

may cause irreversible damage to their health.

The Medical Health Team

Emergency Press Release

22nd February 2011

Today another 4 people were sent to hospital, raising the number of fainting episodes to 7.

Today is the 29th day of the hunger strike.

28-year-old Radwan fainted with a fall.

http://clandestinenglish.wordpress.com/

+++ THIS IS WHAT YOU CAN DO +++

Send letters, fax and emails of protest to the Greek ministries of interior, of citizen protection and of health and to your local Greek embassy and consulate!
Help spread the word to media, and send press releases to your local, regional, national and european media. Here you find the press release we sent out http://w2eu.net/2011/02/20/300-it-is-time-to-act-now/#p…lease
Send copies of your press release and solidarity declarations to: hungerstrike300@espiv.net

Pass this message on in your networks and urge other people to act, too!

Below you find a sample fax/emailing greek and english language that you can send to the relevant authorities – also listed below. Please do note that it is always better if you compose a text on your own. It doesn’t need to be long! If you do so, please post your letter as a comment on http://w2eu.net/2011/02/20/300-it-is-time-to-act-now/, so that we can collect our voices.

Please act and help spread the this – solidarity is the proverbial weapon these days. The hunger strikers are asking for your support!!!

e-mails:
dialogue@politicalforum.gr
ypourgos@ypes.gov.gr
info@ypes.gr
papoutsi@otenet.gr
pressoffice@yptp.gr
Louka.katseli@parliament.gr
anna.dalaras@gmail.com
hungerstrike300@gmail.com

fax numbers:
Ministry of Interior, fax: 0030 2103665089,
Ministry of Citizen Protection, fax: 0030 2103387708
Ministry of Labour, fax: 2105249805, 0030 2103213688

Greek Migrant Hunger Strike Enters Day 30

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, 21 February, 2011 by bristolnoborders

+++ As hunger strike of 300 approaches day 30, strikers are in dire
need of transnational support! +++ It is time to ACT NOW! +++ Fax,
E-Mail and phone the Greek authorities and demand immediate
legalisation NOW +++

Here you find a sample fax/email that you can send to the relevant
authorities. Please do note that it is always better if you compose a
text on your own. It doesn’t need to be long! If you do so, please
post your letter as a comment below, so that we can collect our
voices.

e-mails:

dialogue@politicalforum.gr, ypourgos@ypes.gov.gr, info@ypes.gr,
papoutsi@otenet.gr, pressoffice@yptp.gr, Louka.katseli@parliament.gr,
anna.dalaras@gmail.com, hungerstrike300@gmail.com

fax numbers:

MInistry of Interior, fax: 0030 2103665089,
Ministry of Citizen Protection, fax: 0030 2103387708
Ministry of Labour, fax: 2105249805, 0030 2103213688

Greek:

To:
Greek Emabssy/Consulate in [insert the consulate next to you!!]

Ministry of Citizen Protection of the Hellenic Republic
Ministry of Interior, Decentralisation and E-Government of the Hellenic Republic
Ministry of Health of the Hellenic Republic

Hunger strike of 300 migrants in Athens and Thessaloníki: Legalisation Now!

English

To
Greek Emabssy/Consulate in [insert the consulate next to you!!]
Ministry of Citizen Protection of the Hellenic Republic
Ministry of Interior, Decentralisation and E-Government of the Hellenic Republic
Ministry of Health of the Hellenic Republic

Hunger strike of 300 migrants in Athens and Thessaloníki: Legalisation Now!

xx of February 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

we are writing to you on the occasion of the hunger strike of 300
migrants which is currently taking place in Athens and Thessaloníki.
We have followed the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. We
are not surprised that – again – migrants feel compelled to choose
such a strong measure to campaign for their rights: putting their
lives at risk. We express our solidarity with their cause.

With this letter, we want to urge you to fulfil the demands of the
hunger striking migrants, i.e. the unconditional legalisation of all
migrants in Greece, before it is too late. We are acutely aware that
the hunger strike is approaching its 30th day, and already, many
hunger strikers had to be hospitalised. Their health and indeed their
lives are at risk here, and it is the responsibility of the Greek
government to resolve the situation immediately by decreeing a
legalisation. In our understanding, this constitutes the only
permanent and viable solution to the despicable situation of refugees
and migrants in Greece, a political issue various Greek governments
have struggled with unsuccessfully.

By following the migrants’ demands, the Greek government can send
powerful political signals. A legalisation would be the strongest
communication to the other EU member states that the current system of
delegating responsibility to the fringes of Europe cannot continue and
needs a courageous solution. A legalisation would also finally end the
years of uncertainty migrants have been facing in Greece and attribute
them their rights as part of the society that they have long earned by
their labour in the Greek economy and the life they have led in
Greece. A legalisation would also send a clear political message that
it is necessary to deal with the new and (be)coming citizens in a
fair, respectful and dignified way and that xenophobia and racism are
damnable attitudes that better belong to the past.

The European answer of bordering and exclusion has no future, it only
creates pain and violations of rights.

Demo, revolt, fire and escape at Brussels detention centre yesterday

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, 21 February, 2011 by bristolnoborders

The group “Voices Without Borders” organised a solidarity action this afternoon at the 127 bis detention centre in Steenockerzeel, Brussels this afternoon starting at 16.30 on Sunday. The action was a show of solidarity with prisoners in the immigration prison who have been on hunger strike for more than ten days after an 18 year old Egyption migrant was tied up and beaten by guards.

The demonstrators arrived at the centre with music, shouts and banners, including one showing a telephone number which prisoners could call to relay testimonies and messages. The lively demo was met with lots of interaction from the people inside shouting and banging on windows, clearly in a resistant mood. People inside and out shouted messages of solidarity and defiance to each other whilst a line of riot cops looked on. Whilst demonstrators banged on the outer line of five meter steel fences prisoners inside began to throw objects out of the windows.

After some time a fire broke out in one cell and people were led out of the wing into the courtyard near the fences close to the demonstration while the fire began to rage. Guards began pushing prisoners on the fire escape.

One prisoner managed to climb the fences out of the centre to freedom, where he then disappeared into mid air. Others occupied the rooftop.

As more police arrived to “pacify” the revolt, activists showed solidarity, staying close to the centre in support.

The roads were blocked with police surrounding the centre and cordoning off traffic in the nearby village of Steenockerzeel. The train station has also been closed down. As of late evening, TV crews from the Belgian networks were still in the area. Recent reports say that one wing has been destroyed, with prisoners moved to other dention centres.

Solidarité avec les revoltés. In solidarity with the fighting spirit of the immigration prisoners of Steenockerzeel, locked up for no crime in the “Capital of Europe”. No borders, No nations.

See the main steam media video of today’s events here: http://video.rtlinfo.be/GED_vp/00230000/237200/237206.swf?bEmbed=1&bHideInfo=0&VideoID=278151
NOTE — images from capitalist media, too late to blur faces.

brussels indymedia:

http://bxl.indymedia.org/articles/1072

http://bxl.indymedia.org/articles/1079

http://bxl.indymedia.org/articles/1081

articles in capitalist press with more images:

http://www.rtbf.be/info/article/detail?id=5648463&cat=BELGIQUE

http://www.lesoir.be/actualite/belgique/2011-02-20/tensions-tres-vives-au-centre-127bis-823347.php

http://www.lalibre.be/actu/belgique/article/643995/tensions-tres-vives-au-centre-127bis-a-steenokkerzeel.html

arnaud borderer
– Homepage: http://gettingthevoiceout.wordpress.com/

G4S whistleblowers confirm detainees’ allegation

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, 18 February, 2011 by bristolnoborders

By Dr Frank Arnold, Emma Ginn and Harriet Wistrich

17 February 2011

The Guardian reported last week[1] that whistleblowers within G4S, the private company contracted to carry out forced deportations, say that staff warned management of inappropriate use of force. Yet, after the death in October 2010 of a deportee[2] who had been restrained and complained he couldn’t breathe, a top G4S manager claimed he was ‘not aware’ of any staff concerns.

In response to our 2008 Outsourcing Abuse (http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/content/view/411/88/) dossier of nearly 300 assault complaints, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) Chief Executive implied that our motivation was to ‘damage the reputation of our contractors’ and trashed our claims of widespread abuse while, according to the Guardian, they knew of G4S staff allegations. Our warnings were not exaggerated; a man later died. Their apparent disregard and lack of control was noted in 2009 by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons who found UKBA contract monitors did not work to any clear criteria and sometimes ‘appeared to be part of the escort team’ that they were meant to be monitoring.

 

UKBA have been aware of allegations of excess violence and abuse by escorts all along through their own complaints procedure and legal challenges by deportees. In its last report, the Home Office’s own Complaints Audit Committee reported ‘endemic and enlarging problems’ in misconduct investigations, that 79 per cent of serious misconduct complainants were not interviewed, and that 65 per cent of responses to them were not defensible. Doctors associated with Medical Justice have examined dozens of detainees who have suffered injuries consistent with restricted breathing during failed deportation attempts.

Forty-two cases in Outsourcing Abuse included restriction of detainees’ breathing. Eighteen of these detainees were identified in the report and data from all forty-two cases contributed to the findings. The UKBA response to most assault allegations we made was that injuries were regrettable, but the force used was in accordance with approved Control & Restraint (C&R) methods, yet the whistleblowers reveal a frequent failure to use approved C&R methods. Many allege assault after a deportation is aborted, when escorts say they lost money as a result. Whistleblowers have confirmed the suspected motives for the gratuitous assaults complained of.

The whistleblowers’ evidence should trigger a further review of some of the complaints in our dossier. A parliamentary committee should conduct an inquiry into the use of force in the deportation process. As there is no evidence that UKBA have made any meaningful changes towards avoiding another death the use of force should be suspended meanwhile.

Emma Ginn, Co-ordinator, Medical Justice

Dr Frank Arnold, Clinical Advisor to Medical Justice Harriet Wistrich, Birnberg Peirce & Partners Solicitors Authors of Outsourcing Abuse: The use and misuse of state-sanctioned force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers, which can be downloaded here (http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/images/stories/reports/reportonoutsourcingabuse.pdf) (pdf file, 940kb). —-

FOOTNOTE [1] ‘G4S security firm was warned of lethal risk to refused asylum seekers’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/feb/08/g4s-deportees-lethal-risk-warning-mubenga), Guardian, 8 February 2011 and ‘Staff on deportation flights played ‘Russian roulette’ with lives’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/feb/08/staff-deportation-flights-g4s), Guardian, 8 February 2011.

[2] See ‘Security guards accused over death of man being deported to Angola’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/14/security-guards-accused-jimmy-mubenga-death), Guardian, 14 October 2010; and ‘Justice for Jimmy Mubenga’ (http://www.irr.org.uk/2010/december/ha000012.html), IRR News, 9 December 2010.

Read about Outsourcing Abuse (http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/content/view/411/88/)

Bristol Based Mitie Enter Immigration Detention Buisness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on Sunday, 13 February, 2011 by bristolnoborders

Mitie are a fairly large[3] “outsourcing company”; anything from providing security guards at courts[4] and nuclear weapons labs[5][6] to cleaning the Scottish Parliament[4]. This is the first time they’ve tried managing a detention centre[2]. These companies specialise in taking over a service and then squeezing it for profit; finding more ways to exploit staff or cut corners.

An appropriate example: migrant cleaners are hired because their “illegal” status makes them vulnerable and easy to exploit, then handed over to the authorities when it suits management, eg if they attempt to organise[7]. In one incident, Mitie bosses were seen “laughing their heads off” while distressed migrants were intimidated and insulted by police[8].

Mitie’s CEO was one of 35 who signed a high-profile letter to the Telegraph backing the cuts[9], in the interests of “a healthier and more stable economy”. What they really mean is in the interests of their profits; as Mitie’s annual report says: “The public sector faces … considerable pressure on expenditure … this will create significant opportunities for the outsourcing market”[9].

None of this bodes well for the 200 or so people locked up in Campsfield. Mitie’s bid was selected because they offered the cheapest service[1], and though the details have yet to emerge, it seems likely that it will be the detainees who suffer the results.

There Bristol Office had previously attracted attention due to their abusive behaviour towards migrant workers:

http://bristol.indymedia.org/article/691009

http://bristol.indymedia.org.uk/article/693167

 

 

[1] http://www.publictenders.net/tender/86990

[2] http://www.mitie.com/Interim-Management-Statement_Jan

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MITIE_Group

[4] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/9732796e-2d71-11e0-8f53-00144feab49a.html

[5] http://www.awe.co.uk/Contents/Publication/347f9d9Ass%20Report%20November%2007.pdf

[6] http://www.aldermaston.net/blog/roving_reporter/401

[7] http://thecommune.co.uk/2009/07/02/alberto-durango-i-am-for-justice-and-the-truth/

[8] http://thecommune.co.uk/2009/07/29/testimony-of-a-mitie-worker-in-an-immigration-detention-centre/

[9] http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2010/10/18/mities-conflict-of-interest/

Child Detention: The Lowdown

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on Thursday, 10 February, 2011 by bristolnoborders

In May 2010, the new coalition government committed to ending child detention for immigration purposes. The ‘commitment’ had to wait another few months to materialise (only last week reports revealed that a 11-year-old girl had been detained at Tinsley House detention centre, near Gatwick, over Christmas). Meanwhile, the UK Border Agency has been experimenting with a new deportation process for families, spun as “a new, compassionate approach to family removals.” Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg went as far as claiming that this marked “an enormous culture shift within our immigration system.” But while many serious concerns regarding the rights and welfare of migrant families remain, the new system appears to have created a new market for detention and deportation profiteers.

New old pilots

The new deportation system for families involves three stages, euphemistically named Assisted Return, Required Return and Ensured Return. The idea is that measures taken to persuade or force a family to leave the country will get increasingly tougher the further through these stages the case progresses (for more details on the new system, see this ILPA info sheet). Along with these, three new schemes have been piloted in London and the North West: Family Conferences, Limited Notice (of removal) and Open Accommodation. Until 22nd November 2010, only the first two stages of the new process were being tested. In the six months since 1st June, however, out of 96 cases only two families took up the Assisted Return option and only one family was deported under Required Return. The Home Office appeared to be rather disappointed with the results, of course (see this interim assessment). And thus, two secure hostels, run by private accommodation providers, were identified in Liverpool and London to “ensure” the return of families who have exhausted the Assisted and Required Return routes but have “failed to comply” with the deportation orders. Here, families will be kept for a minimum of 72 hours before being forcibly deported, but can be kept for up to a month where removal is not possible for one reason or another. In line with the immigration newspeak, these new deportation hostels are being called ‘open accommodation’. A UKBA document, dated November 2010 and titled “Open Accommodation: Accommodating Families Outside of Detention”, describes the pilot scheme as “a radically different approach” to the way the UKBA deals with migrant families due for deportation that is designed to “secure departure without the need for immigration detention.” Explaining the rationale behind the pilot, the document goes on to state that, “We know that there will be some families who, despite our best efforts, will not comply with offers to leave… We consider that moving such families out of their existing accommodation and away from community links and ties they have built up will signal to them that they have reached the end of the road and enable them to understand that their removal will happen.” In other words, uprooting families from their communities will make deportation easier as families would not have access to the support networks they would have if they stayed in the community. Similar practices are followed by other European countries that already operate similar systems. This is not the first time that different types of temporary accommodation to house families prior to deportation have been used, with one such scheme still ongoing in Glasgow. A similar pilot was also tried for 10 months in 2007-2008 in Millbank, Kent. Evidence suggests that this pilot actually decreased the likelihood of families complying with the immigration authorities and many reported feeling “coerced and frightened” (see this independent evaluation). However, the use of the new deportation hostels differs from past attempts in that it is part of the last stage of a new deportation system to ‘ensure return.’ In other words, families are not taken to these hostels with the aim of ‘persuading’ them to leave the UK ‘voluntarily’. They are, rather, flagged for ‘open accommodation’ by a newly formed Family Returns Panel, on the recommendation of the UKBA ‘case owners’, due to their perceived ‘non-cooperation’ in the past. In most other cases, deportation will be carried out from the families’ existing accommodation (provided under sections 4 or 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999). But this might change soon if deportation hostels are rolled out. That, in essence, is the coalition government’s response to ending child detention.

Brigstock House

One of the places identified for the ‘open accommodation’ pilot is an anonymous-looking hostel in Thornton Heath, near Croydon. Brigstock House (57 Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath, CR7 7JH) is an eight-room, double-fronted detached Edwardian house, which has undergone some alterations. Since January 1991, it has been used as a residential care home for adults with learning disabilities, run by BDC Supporting Services, an umbrella group incorporating four residential care homes in the area (see here). According to UKBA documents, it has recently also been used for initial asylum accommodation, where people are housed temporarily upon arrival before they are ‘dispersed’ to other parts of the country. Following the announcement of the pilot scheme, it was decided to ‘convert’ part of Brigstock House to accommodate a selected number of families to be deported under the Ensured Return option, who will apparently be kept in a separate wing of the hostel on a full-board basis, with access to the communal bathrooms. Until June 2010, most asylum and bail hostels in the Greater London area were managed by private accommodation provider Clearsprings (Management) Ltd. The company is the third-largest asylum accommodation provider in the UK after the Angel Group and United Property Management, and is the main provider in the London area. In March 2006, it was awarded, along with seven other companies, a five-year contract worth £153,119,067. The Angel Group’s contract’s value was £275,441,736, and UPM’s £170,152,129. The division of the Clearsprings Group responsible for short-term accommodation has recently been renamed Ready Homes (see here). In June 2007, a new a government-funded scheme called Bail Accommodation and Support Service (BASS) was introduced to provide accommodation and ‘support services’ to people released from prison on bail or home detention curfew (HDC) but do not have a suitable address. For three years, BASS services were provided by ClearSprings. On 18 June 2010, a new three-year contract was awarded to housing charity Stonham (see here). A division of Home Group Ltd, Stonham is one of the UK’s largest providers of housing and support services for vulnerable people (see here). The UKBA has indicated that the new deportation hostels will be initially run be third-sector organisations – a typical first stage in privatisation processes. Brigstock House has a 24-hour ‘reception’ service, which will register families when they move in and out of the hostel and ask them to sign a daily register. The UKBA claims staff will not monitor the normal comings and goings of individual people but will know if a family does not return to the hostel and inform the immigration authorities immediately. The local immigration enforcement team to be responsible for Brigstock House is based at Becket House immigration reporting centre, near London Bridge.

How open is open?

The Home Office insists that “open accommodation is not detention.” Accommodation to be used in the pilot scheme is described in the afore-mentioned UKBA document as “a residential building where families will be free to come and go as they please.” This will apparently be similar to the initial accommodation used at the beginning of the asylum process before people are dispersed to privately provided accommodation in other parts of the country. Detention under immigration powers is defined as holding a person on UKBA-designated premises, whether they are taken there by an immigration officer or after attending there voluntarily, for any length of time (Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009). In other words, their freedom of movement is restricted and they are deprived of their liberty. Deportation hostels are clearly not ‘open’ in that sense as families are required to stay there overnight and their movement is constantly monitored. If anything, it is more like a house arrest. This is illustrated more clearly in another proposed ‘open accommodation’ facility in Crawley, Sussex (see below). A letter by the Home Office consultants sent to local residents to ‘reassure’ them about the new ‘pre-departure accommodation’ states that the facility will have a 2.5-metre perimeter fence. The UKBA also claims that transfer to Open Accommodation will be “on a voluntary basis.” However, families will be threatened that, if they refused to move, they might lose their existing accommodation and become destitute. That is hardly voluntary. The initial length of stay for families in ‘open accommodation’ will be 72 hours, or three days and three nights. Should their removal fail, however, their case will be referred back to the Family Returns Panel for further consideration, while the family remains in the hostel. The Panel will then consider whether any extension of stay is appropriate on a case-by-case basis. According to the pilot scheme proposals, the Panel may authorise an extended stay for up to 28 days. Where removal fails again (for example, if travel documents could not be obtained), the family will be transferred back to Section 95 or Section 4 accommodation in their previous region, but not at the same address where they were previously housed. It is not difficult to see how things could go wrong at each and every step of this process. After all, how many asylum seekers have been staying at the same ‘temporary’ accommodation, often in bad, uninhabitable conditions, for months and years?

Short notice

As indicated above, another new scheme introduced recently, besides Open Accommodation, is known as Limited Notice. This means issuing Removal Directions, or deportation order letters, without specifying the precise date for which the removal is set (see here). Like with charter flight deportations, which are subject to “special arrangements”, the letters only state that the removal will take place within 21 days and no sooner than 72 hours. There have already been legal and other challenges to this practice, as it often creates practical barriers to migrants accessing legal representation to challenge their removal and, therefore, increase the risk that people who have well-founded fears of persecution in their countries of origin may be forcibly deported from the UK. The uncertainty that this situation creates is also proven to cause considerable distress to families (see here, for example). Other options that are being considered by the Home Office include increasing the use of electronic tagging, increasing reporting restrictions, detaining one parent, or any combination of these. In the new family deportation system, when the local Immigration Team refers a ‘non-cooperating’ family to the Family Returns Panel, it will only notify the family and their legal representatives, seven days in advance of the move, that they will be moved to another accommodation in a different area, without making it clear that this will be to an ‘open accommodation’; “just in a different area and in different accommodation,” as the UKBA instructions state. Once there (at Brigstock House, say), they will be served with removal directions by an immigration officer from the local London region, with the ‘no sooner than 72 hours, no later than 21 days’ notice. Moreover, the immigration authorities will also inform the local authorities of the family’s move and that the family will “continue to be supported by UKBA, just in a different area,” in order to pre-empt any request by the family to the local authority for emergency accommodation on the basis that they will become homeless.

Welfare?

The UKBA documents outlining its ‘open accommodation’ plans claim that vulnerable families with specific medical needs are “not suitable for the open accommodation pilot.” However, the UK’s detention history shows that the agency simply disregards such concerns unless it is, occasionally, forced to revise its decisions by campaigners or courts. Indeed, hundreds of torture victims, people with HIV, pregnant women, children and people with serious medical problems have been swallowed by the brutal detention and deportation machine. The plans also claim that ‘open accommodation’ is consistent with Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, which requires the Home Office to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the United Kingdom,” and with the recommendations of the Child Detention Review that ended child detention. It is difficult to see how uprooting families from their communities and forcing them into poorly equipped, temporary hostels can be regarded as safeguarding their welfare. For example, the UKBA does not intend to “provide an exhaustive list of medical issues” that may prevent families being moved into open accommodation. Instead, the Family Returns Panel will be assessing families “on a case-by-case basis.” Brigstock House is allegedly provided with an “on-site health facility” that is staffed by a nurse. A GP is said to visit two days a week. Yet, it is well known from previous experience (in family detention centres) that this structure of provision is not capable of dealing with serious issues, such as distress and other psychological problems created by the asylum system. In fact, whereas detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood were provided with some sort of schooling for children, deportation hostels will have no such facility. Instead, children will be offered “age-related work packs.” This is justified with the argument that “families will be in Open Accommodation for as little as 72 hours,” despite admissions that they may stay for up to a month in some cases. Moreover, families in the pilot scheme will not be provided with any cash support. They will, therefore, have no money for travel to visit legal representatives, for example.

Trained?

The UKBA claims that all deportation hostel staff will be “fully CRB-checked, have had disability training and food safety training where appropriate, and have received training in conflict management.” However, judging from similar facilities run by private providers, such as initial asylum accommodation hostels, this sounds rather exaggerated. For example, many migrants who have been through such hostels confirm that ‘conflict management’ often means simply shutting people up or, where a distressed person or child may have caused ‘disruption’, calling the immigration authorities or police. Deportation hostel staff will also be instructed to immediately call the police when “third parties (for example, family associates or campaigning parties) interested in a particular family’s case” turn up at the hostel and “cause disruption.” The Family Returns Panel will be made up of members of the UK Border Agency and professionals from other agencies, who “may include” representatives from social services, the Department for Education and, “in some cases,” a health professional. The aim is that the Panel will consider the welfare of the family to decide what is the “most appropriate way” for the UKBA to ensure that the family leaves the UK. This aim, or assumption, will inevitably lead to a culture of institutional abuse and negligence, as detention centres have long shown.

New business opportunities for detention profiteers

As the ‘open accommodation’ pilot was being devised, the UKBA insisted that “any new approach to managing families must be affordable within the UK Border Agency’s settlement in the Comprehensive Spending Review.” The other consideration was “improving the speed of asylum decisions and case conclusions.” Indeed, the document outlining the plans was “first shared with corporate partners” on 8th November 2010, before being released to the public. The UKBA’s Corporate Partner Group, which provides “a forum for the agency’s chief executive and board to work more closely with our key partners on strategic issues and to share information regularly,” consists of representatives from a number of selected business and NGOs involved in the immigration and asylum system. These include the Board of Airline Representatives, the Confederation of British Industry, Refugee Council, the UNHCR, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association and so on (you can find a full list here). The group meets quarterly, enabling “open and constructive discussion” about how the UKBA should develop and deliver its policies. The agency also publishes a bi-monthly update for its corporate partners called UK Border Agency News (see here). These may be a good source of information but are also places where commercial intentions and plans are communicated to businesses looking out for new opportunities in the immigration market. Another such channel is the Commercial Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services (COMPASS), which was launched in 2009 to “provide ongoing contract provision for asylum and refugee support services.” After two ‘successful’ supplier conferences in October 2010, the UKBA has held a series of one-to-one meetings with “interested potential commercial partners” to “discuss the feasibility of the different contract delivery models.” And this brings us to another recent ‘open accommodation’ plan.

‘Pease pottage hot, pease pottage cold’

It has recently transpired that the UKBA has applied for planning permission to convert another facility, a residential school for children with behavioural and learning difficulties in Pease Pottage, Crawley, Sussex, into a ‘pre-departure accommodation facility’ – another euphemism for deportation hostels. The Crawley Forest School is owned by Crossroads Childrens Education Services Ltd., a private company wholly owned by its director Sunita Arora, the wife of Surinder Arora, the owner and founder of Arora International Hotels. No open procurement tendering process for the facility, as required by EU and UK legislation, has taken place, which suggests that there may have been some dodgy, behind-closed-doors deal between the UKBA and the Arora Group, following the latter’s failure to gain a slice of the detention market last year (see below). The school itself, which has been told to vacate the property by 1st April 2011, was apparently unaware of the new plans until it was contacted by campaigners. The new facility, which will have the capacity to accommodate eight families, is intended to open in mid-May. The Home Office will lease the building from Crossroads, whilst the day-to-day running of the centre will be outsourced to a ‘third-sector’ provider. In an attempt to avoid a repeat of previous embarrassing experiences, a ‘consultation letter’, dated 25th January 2011, has been sent to local residents on behalf of the Home Office by private consultation firm CgMs Consulting, trying to convince them of the new project (a copy of the letter can be found here). Citing the coalition government’s policy on ending child detention, the letter argues that “the need remains to provide a suitable facility to accommodate families whose removal from the UK is being enforced.” And this “pre-departure accommodation,” it claims, “provides that solution.” This is partly justified by the site’s proximity to Gatwick and Heathrow airports, implying that this would make deportations easier. The letter then reassures residents that the facility already has a 2.5m palisade fence, with electronic entrance gates, and that “there is no requirement to alter this boundary treatment.” It also claims that families will be accommodated for a maximum of 72 hours or, in exceptional cases, for up to one week, which is not exactly accurate. As to the timescale, the letter apologises for the short notice and claims that this was due to “the closure of previous facilities” (meaning family wings at immigration detention centres) and that it is important for the government’s new plans that the new facility is operational by 11 May 2011. The letter also claims that the Crawley Forest School currently has only 8 residential pupils, despite having the ability to house 35 residential and 35 day pupils, making the project “unviable.” The school management, however, disputes this claim and says the school was only ever equipped to accommodate 12 to 18 pupils. CgMs has worked for the Home Office as a “consultant on property matters” since 1997 (see here). Its portfolio includes “providing advice on numerous existing and new Removal Centres nationwide.” These apparently include “20-30 proposed Immigration Accommodation Centres nationwide before the Accommodation Centre policy was changed by the Government.” The company has also been involved in “advice, applications and appeals for related Reception, Induction, Reporting and Hearing Centres.” The reason for this, in the words of the company, is that “because of the nature of the users, these have nearly always proved controversial, involving sensitive and comprehensive consultation with local residents, councillors and other stakeholders.” In 2009, Arora Management Services, which owns a series of luxury hotels close to airports, applied to the Crawley Borough Council for permission to convert its four-star hotel Mercure, near Gatwick, into an immigration detention centre, driven by “a decline in business” (see this Corporate Watch article for details). The move sparked a concerted campaign against Arora by No Borders and other anti-detention activists, with protests and actions taking place at Arora hotels across the country. The Crawley Borough Council’s Development Control Committee eventually rejected the planning application. Since news of the plan for the new deportation hostel in Pease Pottage transpired, No Borders has announced that it will immediately start a campaign against the new facility (see here). “If Arora thought they can get this through without anybody noticing it,” a spokesperson for the group said, “they have failed”.

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