Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

2.  Memorandum submitted by the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID)

  AVID is the umbrella organisation for independent visiting groups who visit at immigration removal centres and some prisons in the UK. Our member groups have over 400 visitors who visit centres on a daily basis and observe the differences between policy set by the Detention Policy Unit and practice within the centres.

  Many of their observations reach AVID in the form of complaints against enforcement, the contractors running the centres, poor decision making initially by the caseworkers and escorts being used to effect removal or movement between centres.

  It had not been our intention to respond to this inquiry due to the wide range of the subject, but certain cases have recently come to our attention and despite the deadline passing, we hope the Committee will be able to take the evidence in this submission into account.


  Health provision is "bought in" by the contractor running the centre, where it is privately run. We continue to maintain that there is a conflict of interest between keeping the contract and providing a good service to detainees. The three case histories below demonstrate that:

    —  The system for ensuring medical care is continued during removal is ineffective, as demonstrated by the cases below.

    —  There is still a lack of credence given to those claiming to have been tortured even when evidence of trauma is obvious and progressive.

    —  Attempts are still made to remove people who are medically unfit.

    —  Mistakes, whether deliberate or not, are made and people removed without their case being completed.

  (a)   "M was picked up by an enforcement team between 7.30 and 8 am, the officers taking her diabetes medicine without allowing her to take her morning dose. She was taken to a holding centre, then to a removal centre, without having any food, arriving at 3.30 pm. On arrival she was seen by a nurse who took her blood pressure, told her it was high and that she would see a doctor in the morning. At 12 pm she was taken to Heathrow for removal. She felt very ill, was extremely stressed and tired. She had severe head pains. Repeated requests to see a doctor were ignored. At 6 am she was told she would not be removed. She became agitated and shouted for a doctor at which point the immigration officials started to restrain her, resulting in a head injury. An ambulance was called and she was taken to hospital.

  When a further attempt was made to move her to another centre, she was not told where she was being taken, she was handcuffed and her son was used as an inducement to get her into the van. Her son is now extremely disturbed by all the moves, waking at night, withdrawn and having nightmares."

  The above also highlights the indifference to individuals of the escorts.

  (b)   "S had reported being tortured as part of her case and was distressed, suffering panic attacks and reliving events from her torture. She asked her visitor to help her end her life. Over a period of one month, she deteriorated mentally and ceased taking food and water. The visitor was assured by the medical staff that there were no medical concerns in spite of her breathing difficulties, forgetfulness, pitting oedema of her ankles, feeling cold all the time.

  During this period there were other hunger strikers in the centre, who did not receive visits from either the nurse or doctor in the centre on a regular basis.

  An independent expert visited S and expressed great concern over her condition. A second independent expert on torture survivors visited in mid August and subsequently she was admitted to hospital. By mid-September, S had been returned to detention and was hallucinating, seeing Ugandan soldiers in the centre, breathless again and having panic attacks. She was also experiencing stomach pain when trying to eat, having stopped the hunger strike. The re-feeding drinks were stopped by the medical centre and they said they would not be getting any more.

  Due to the publicity locally about the hunger strike, at least two detainees, including S received threatening phone calls. A "bogus" attempt was made to remove S. The visitor supported her in trying to complain but so far, no officer has attempted to follow up the complaint.

  S was taken back to Bedford Hospital in early October where she was hallucinating and unable to sleep for fear. Returned to the centre on mid-October where she became catatonic. After three days she was moved to a secure psychiatric unit. Improved mentally and physically while in the unit. Was returned to centre where she deteriorated immediately, being unable to sleep, severe breathing difficulties, confusion and double vision."

  (c)   Detainee who was injured near her eye before being detained, but not treated before two attempted removals, both of which were refused by airline staff as she was bleeding. Was still awaiting specialist appointment, as she is already blind in one eye, two months after being detained.

  (d)   Detainee (torture victim) alleged that he asked Healthcare about his solicitor's request for medical file, which was urgently required to stop a removal. Healthcare told him that they had not received the fax, but he saw the fax on a table. Detainee was removed without being able to appeal on medical grounds.

  The concerns raised by the above cases include:

    1.  What checks are made to ensure that torture victims are not detained?

    2.  The failure of her legal representative to obtain a medical report from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

    3.  The poor decision making of the Home Office Caseworker concerned and supervision of decision.

    4.  Action had to be taken by a visitor to bring in a second opinion when deteriorating mental health was obvious and treatment had not been instigated by the centre.

    5.  While in the re-feeding programme, high nutrition drinks were withdrawn.

    6.  S was still in detention on 21 December and had still not been found a place of safety where she could be treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, from which she is suffering. [8]

    7.  The quibbling over who pays for S in a specialist unit which has held up her move to a hospital since 12 December.

    8.  The length of time it has taken to take action in urgent cases.

    9.  The indifference shown to resolving problems by the Healthcare team.


  That the National Health Service becomes the healthcare providers to immigration removal centres. That after transfer to the NHS, oversight of healthcare provision in Centres should be given to an independent authority.


  We would continue to press for improvements in selecting, training and supervision of first decisions which continue to be flawed. We understand that access to the internet and better country information is in process but the following case highlights how a poor decision can cost a life.

  (a)   "D claimed that he was persecuted by gangsters on political grounds in Jamaica. His brother, also in the UK, had been attacked with a hatchet; another brother has fled to the USA; his family had been burned out of their home; two of his daughters had been killed and D himself had a scar from a gunshot wound. (His first wife had died of cancer and his 14 year old surviving daughter is in Jamaica with an aunt.) His case was refused and he was returned to Jamaica, leaving a partner (UK citizen) and two year old daughter here. Nine days after he was returned he was killed. No one in his family can safely return to bury him"".


  That the Home Office is required to find out what happens to those returned to their countries to ensure that the country continues to be considered safe for returns. (Recommendation (cc), Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into Returns, to commission research into reception of failed asylum seekers.)


  Enforcement teams continue to pick up families and individuals using teams of uniformed, heavy squads. Women are not allowed privacy to dress and children are terrified by the forceful methods used to invade their home and take them to a removal centre. Because of the shock and trauma of the event, documents and valuables are left behind, often disappearing before they can be retrieved by family and friends.

  The Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into Removals recommended the appointment of a Welfare Officer to each centre to help resolve some of the problems resulting from the way people are picked up for detention in April 2003. A pilot scheme, which took two years to set up, has now been running for approximately six months at Haslar Removal Centre. Families and children are not held in Haslar, so the pilot scheme does not address all the issues resulting from how people are detained. Problems outside the remit of the pilot scheme include:

  (a)   Attempted removal to Sierra Leone where woman was not accepted and her luggage was lost. She was returned to the UK without any belongings and detained.

  (b)   Man refused in Paris, in transit, and returned to UK. Luggage was sent to destination and lost. Returned to detention.

  (c)   Man who had been here for eight years in NASS accommodation was detained for three days and removed without possessions. Had car, computer, work documents etc and had been working legitimately.

  (d)   Two detainees complained of lack of access to cash points to retrieve money in their accounts before removal.


  1.  The inquiry looks at the way people are detained at their residence, in the street, at police and reporting stations, and considers whether there is a better way of ensuring that they have time to collect together their essentials before being moved to a removal centre.

  2.  No child to be detained prior to removal for more than one week. If a child is detained and the case goes to the Minister for agreement for continued detention, the entire file should be seen by the Minister, not just the synopsis, as is current practice.

  3.  Alternatives to detention are used to encourage people to return through voluntary returns programmes, leaving with dignity and the means to start their life again in their own country.

  4.  Implement recommendation (dd) of the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into Removals[9], to provide a modest payment to those likely to be destitute on return.


  Two recent cases have shown that recording of all interviews should be best practice to safeguard Immigration Officers, embassy staff and the detainees.

  (a)   An interpreter complained that the detainee being interviewed had stated that they were not fit to be interviewed, but this was ignored. As a result of complaining about unfair treatment of the detainee, they are no longer employed by Immigration.

  (b)   A detainee reported that he was threatened and then offered a bribe by an embassy official during an interview in a removal centre. A complaint was submitted but is unlikely to be proven without evidence.


  The automatic recording of interviews should be extended to all interviews held in removal centres.

  We have been encouraged to think that oversight of difficult removals will be carried out at airports by an Independent Monitoring Body, but are still receiving a steady stream of complaints about assaults on airport property, poor care of people awaiting flight who have been denied food and water for long periods and threats and abuse by escort and immigration staff.

  We look forward to the extension of the remit of the Prisons Ombudsman to immigration in the next Immigration Bill in the hope that he will be able to oversee a fair and credible system of complaints which is still lacking in removal centres.

Helen Ireland


29 December 2005

8   Detention Services Order 7/2004, Detention Services Policy Unit, Food and Fluid refusals in immigration removal centres. Back

9   Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Removals, Published May 2003. Back

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