By Robert Verkaik and Chris Green | Britain is responsible for the abuse of hundreds of failed asylum-seekers at the hands of private security guards during their forced removal from this country, a report into the treatment of refugees alleges today.
The findings, based on nearly 300 cases of alleged physical assault and racial abuse, follows a four-year investigation into concerns about the control and use of private security firms in the deportation process.
Many of the allegations were first published in The Independent in October last year when ministers then dismissed the cases as being unsubstantiated and requested more evidence.
Last week the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was given the names and details of 48 of the claimants who want the Government to order fresh investigations into their cases.
Lord David Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons who sent the report to ministers, described the dossier of cases as “disturbing” and today calls on the Government to “recognise that our national reputation is not something to be treated lightly or wantonly, and that, if even one of the cases is substantiated, that amounts to something of a preventable national disgrace.”
Diane Abbott, MP, said the report was one of the most shocking she had read in the 20 years she has served as an MP: “This report is distressing and upsetting for anyone to read. But for ministers it is a damning verdict on their inability to inject even a shred of humanity into a failing immigration system,” she said.
A disturbing feature of the report is that many of the allegations of abuse are made by refugees who came to this country because they claim to have been tortured or persecuted in their own country.
Many of the refugees’ injuries, often corroborated by doctors’ reports, suggest that resistance to removal is often met with overwhelming force, including beatings and kickings as well as victims being violently dragged around by their handcuffs. Several of the accounts are given by children as either victims themselves or as witnesses to assaults on their parents.
The report’s authors — the law firm Birnberg Peirce, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns — conclude: “We have found an alarming and unacceptable number of injuries have been sustained by those subject to forced removals. This dossier provides evidence of widespread and seemingly systemic abuse of one of the most vulnerable communities of people in our society, who have fled their own countries seeking safety and refuge.”
The report, Outsourcing Abuse, says the Government’s removal policy is driven by apparently arbitrary targets on deportation and has announced a near doubling of detention centre capacity.
It warns: “Mass deportations may follow if the Government puts into effect its announcement to deal with 450,000 unresolved asylum cases within five years or less. The increased use of detention and target-driven deportations may lead to further injuries and assault allegations.”
All the allegations contained in the report have been made in the past four years to immigration workers, doctors and lawyers by asylum-seekers who claim to have been abused inside immigration detention camps and security transport, at airports, or on board aircraft. The authors say many of the alleged victims can no longer be contacted as they have been deported or are too frightened to put in claims in case it has an adverse effect on their applications.
Cases include that of Amos Alajaibo, a Nigerian who says he was beaten unconscious by guards after admitting he had talked to the media during a protest, and an Algerian man who was allegedly assaulted while in a wheelchair.
Suren Khachatryan, an Armenian, suffered a punctured lung after allegedly being stamped on by his immigration escorts in the back of a security van. Another detainee said he was “bound up like a parcel” by officials trying to force him on to a deportation flight.
A 39-year-old Ugandan, Noreen Nafuna, says she was bundled on to a flight wearing only her underwear and later punched in the face by an escort, and a 21-year-old woman from Cameroon claims that she was assaulted in front of her young daughter.
In another case, HM, a 16-year-old girl from Rwanda, who claimed asylum after coming to Britain as a sex-trafficking victim, says she was assaulted by guards who removed her from a shower unit in a detention centre. She says she suffered bruising when she was handcuffed from behind in a semi-naked state and taken to a holding cell. Her claim was investigated and dismissed by the Home Office, although there was criticism of the way the guards had handled a near-naked teenager.
It is understood that the UK Borders Agency has received 89 complaints since October 2006, of which three were substantiated. Another 10 were partly upheld, relating to issues such as rudeness or inefficiency.
A spokesperson for the agency said: “We have been asking for this information for at least nine months. We are glad that something has finally arrived. We will review it and where necessary will refer it to the police.”
Group4Securicor has told The Independent that it investigates all allegations properly and instructs its escort teams to treat all asylum-seekers with respect. Other firms have declined to comment on similar allegations.
‘I was beaten and kicked by guards’: RH, asylum-seeker from Burundi
The story of Mr RH highlights the alleged abuse suffered by asylum-seekers at the hands of British security guards. He fled to the UK in 2007 after being tortured in his home country of Burundi. His application for asylum was rejected by the Home Office, and he was taken to an immigration removal centre to await deportation.
In July last year, Mr RH was taken from his room by immigration escorts. He was handcuffed, and his legs were crossed at the ankle before being tied together with tape. After struggling on his way to the van, which was bound for Heathrow, he says he was beaten and kicked by the escorts before being dragged half-naked into the plane. During the alleged assault, his handcuffs caused him to incur severe injuries to his wrists which were clearly visible. The pilot came to investigate, and told the escorts he would not fly Mr RH out of the country in his state at the time.
After being returned, RH was examined by a medical officer. However, a later examination by an independent doctor revealed that this officer had only made limited notes about some of Mr RH’s injuries, while others were not documented. Although he has since been released from detention and has recovered, Mr RH’s case still hangs in the balance and he remains threatened with removal.