Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

15.  Memorandum submitted by the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group


  This submission consists of case studies from our files which may be of use to the Committee examining immigration control. The case studies presented relate to the time period from January 2005 to November 2005.


  The Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group is a small registered charity providing emotional and practical support to asylum seekers and migrants being held at Tinsley House Removal Centre at Gatwick Airport. Each year we are in contact with approximately 800 detainees, roughly 10% of the total number of detainees who pass through the centre each year. We have three paid staff and 70 volunteers who do this work.


3.1  Transportation

  There are problems with transportation to bail hearings. A number of cases have come to our attention whereby detainees have missed bail hearings due to the failure of escort staff to be allocated to transport them. One detainee missed two consecutive bail hearings due to this reason—potentially prolonging his detention unnecessarily by over a month. Another case in point:

Case 1

  "L" was initially detained together with her two children (one and four years old). She suffered from depression and severe sleeping problems since being detained and had been prescribed medication. Due to her declining mental state her children were taken to stay with A's mother after their third week in detention. She had a bail hearing at which her solicitor, mother and one of her children attended. On the day, "L" was told that there was a shortage of transport vans. She was left for most of the day without a definite answer as to whether they would be able to take her to her hearing or not. It eventually became apparent that they would not. This was despite another van arriving to carry two male detainees to go to the same court. "L" consequently missed her hearing and chance to be released, whilst her family were left waiting for five hours at the court without being told for sure whether or not "L" would be presented. The day after the missed court hearing, a member of the medical centre at Tinsley House referred "L" to us as being extremely depressed—she was also at this point referred to the psychologist at Tinsley House.

3.2  Detention conditions

  We've noted a rise in detainees reporting poor treatment at holding centres in airports and whilst in transit between centres:

Case 2

  A young female detainee was held at the airport following failed removal. She was allegedly told she could only go to the toilet in her bare feet. The toilets were apparently disgustingly dirty and the detainee felt she couldn't go barefoot. The officer told her that she would therefore have to urinate in her holding cell. Detainee consequently didn't go to the toilet until the morning. She also reported that she was not given food for many hours.

Case 3

  S spoke of treatment at airport —was given no water from 11 am until 9 pm.

Case 4

  One detainee taken for removal to Gatwick claims he arrived with escorts at 11.25 am for an 11.10 am flight, thus missing the flight. He was then apparently told it would go on record that he had refused to board the flight. He claims that during his four-hour stay at the airport, awaiting transfer back to detention, he was denied any water.

Case 5

  One couple denied entry clearance were held at the airport from 10 am until midnight when they were transferred to Tinsley House. They claim that they were denied food for the duration and also not permitted to change their clothing.

Case 6

  "R" told us escorts had come to take him to the hospital for an x-ray whilst he was being detained at Tinsley House. They tried to handcuff him and he was refused permission to change his clothing before being taken for his appointment. "R" so upset at his treatment that he refused to go to hospital. He told us he felt as though he was being treated like a prisoner.

Case 7

  "L" told us that on the way down in the escort van from Dungavel to Tinsley House at Gatwick she had not been given water throughout the duration of the journey.

3.3  Interviews with home country officials

  We're concerned about detainees being sent against their will for interviews with officials from their country of origin. There were recently a large number of Vietnamese nationals being held in the centre and we heard allegations that officials from that country were asking detainees for sums of money during interviews. These interviews are a great stress to failed asylum seekers, who fear that there is a real risk that by being interviewed they will be identified as subversives and risk suffering persecution if returned home. The Home Office seem to ignore the fact that in many countries immigration officials are part of the security apparatus. Our umbrella group AVID has stated that at the very least, if such interviews must occur, they should be recorded and monitored.

3.4  Lack of information relating to those refused entry at port

  We come across a significant number of cases whereby people are refused entry at port and the family member or friend who has come to the airport to collect them is refused information as to their whereabouts, or the likely schedule of events. This is an extremely frightening experience for all concerned.

Case 8

  The British boyfriend of one American woman detained at the airport contacted us extremely distraught. She had been refused entry at port but he was denied any information as to her whereabouts. He was apparently told by immigration to try calling round all the detention centres to try and locate her.

Case 9

  One of our volunteers encountered a distraught elderly woman in the visits room at Tinsley House. She had come down from Newcastle to pick up her daughter and young grandson from the airport but they had been refused entry and detained. By the time the woman eventually tracked down her family members at Tinsley (she said that immigration initially refused to tell her the whereabouts of her daughter) she was too upset to travel alone back up north, so our volunteer had to accommodate her for the night.

3.5  Detention of families

  We're concerned of the impact on children of enforcement action and detention. In the cases below children of the families concerned were all in school and thus immigration will have had information of their whereabouts. Given the fact that both these families were eventually granted temporary admission one can reasonably ask why their cases were not considered from outside of detention. The Operational Enforcement Manual (39.3-3) states that "All reasonable alternatives to detention must be considered before detention is authorised"—our impression is that this instruction is frequently overlooked when it comes to the detention of families.

Case 10

  We were contacted by a family (with children 13, 10 and eight) who had been picked up in just the clothes they were wearing after 14 years in the UK. The father told us he was trying hard to hide his distress from the children but that the whole experience was having an extremely negative effect on the family. The children had apparently wet their beds and one of them had woken up screaming in the night, something which had not happened before. They ended up being granted temporary admission.

Case 11

  A single mother with two small children spent 10 days in detention and endured two removal attempts, both of which were cancelled right at the last minute by her solicitor. Her little boy had had diarrhoea since arriving in Tinsley House and she was extremely concerned about the welfare of her daughter, who was of school age and missing out on her education. She was eventually given temporary admission.

3.6  Alternatives to detention

  We frequently come across cases whereby family members are separated due to detention. In some cases this leaves non-detained family members in an extremely vulnerable position. For example, one detainee had been picked up suddenly after nine years in the country. His wife and small baby, who were reliant on him for an income, were left in a precarious position. We've also been asked for assistance from people who have been detained despite being the primary carers of a non-detained family member. Our impressions are that alternatives to detention are not always considered in these cases.

Case 12

  One woman was with her two eldest children in detention whilst her husband and two-year-old child were kept outside. The husband was in fact a British Citizen. In the end the family had to make a formal request to the authorities to allow the youngest child to be detained with its mother because the father was working 12-hour days and could not cope with the care of a small child.

3.7  Welfare issues

  We have been working with our umbrella group AVID and other visitors groups in trying to convince the Home Office of the need to provide independent welfare advice for detainees. So many detainees are held without access to their belongings and in possession of just the clothes they are wearing. One detainee who contacted us recently had been given removal directions after 12 years of living in this country but not given any chance to collect his belongings or sort out his affairs prior to removal. Another person whom we've helped recently was detained upon reporting after living 19 years in the UK, again in just the clothes they were wearing. Some detainees tell us they would be much more inclined to comply with removal directions if they were able to sort out their affairs first.

  We're also concerned that when being picked up by immigration, people are not being correctly informed of the likely schedule of events that will befall them. One man was picked up at home by enforcement officers but not permitted to bring any of his belongings—being told he would be able to access them in "three weeks time". In actual fact he was taken to a police station and given removal directions for the next day. He had been living in the West Midlands and was unfortunately unable to find anyone to bring his stuff down to him at Gatwick before he was removed.

  There are also issues surrounding failed removals and luggage being lost in transit. In the last month (October 2005) we have had two cases of people being removed but being bounced back to the UK because their documents weren't in order. One person claims to have been beaten by officials in his country on arrival and his luggage lost in transit back to the UK. Another woman being removed was also sent back to the UK and her luggage lost during the course of this.


  We're often asked by funders of our charity how many people are held at Tinsley House and, more generally, in immigration detention each year. This is a surprisingly difficult figure for us to elicit given the current format of the published immigration statistics.

  The current quarterly "snapshot" of those held in detention fails to capture some important information. For example, regarding length of detention of children. On 24 September 2005, 75 children were detained but figures are a snapshot picture for that day only and produced at quarterly intervals. On that basis it is possible for them to have been detained for 89 days and not appear in the figures.

8 December 2005

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