Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre

Home Department written statement – made on 30th November 2006.

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Photo of John Reid John Reid Home Secretary, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The House will be aware that there was a disturbance at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre yesterday. I would like to pay tribute to the speed and professionalism of the services who responded in containing the incident and ensuring that the centre was brought back under control without serious injuries or loss of life. The operation in response to the incident is ongoing, but the following events have been reported to me.

A number of small fires were lit in the early hours of the morning which automatically activated the sprinkler system. The police surrounded the perimeter and the fire service attended the scene. At 1.15 am the decision to open the Gold Command Suite at Prison Service Headquarters was taken. Prison Service Tornado teams arrived by 6 am and were deployed soon after 7 am.

The police service secured the perimeter and the perimeter remained secure throughout the incident. No detainees escaped. There have been no reports of serious injuries to staff or detainees. There has been no risk to the public.

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) have informed me that 484 detainees were present at Harmondsworth at the time of the disturbance, and that of these 177 were foreign nationals who had been convicted of criminal offences, had completed their custodial sentences and who were in the process of being deported or considered for deportation. The centre also held immigration offenders and failed asylum seekers who are in the United Kingdom in breach of our immigration laws and who are being held pending removal.

The disturbance appears to have been an attempt to sabotage the enforcement of our immigration law. The perpetrators have been prepared to destroy property and to endanger their fellow detainees. They have, themselves, harmed their own environment. We will not allow them to succeed in frustrating the enforcement of the law.

Operations took place last night to transfer safely detainees from Harmondsworth to other secure accommodation in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and Prison Service estates. No detainees from Harmondsworth have been released. Around 150 low risk immigration detainees from elsewhere in IND's estate may be bailed, with reporting restrictions, in order to accommodate the higher risk population transferring from Harmondsworth, but the actual number bailed may be fewer, as the operation progresses. No foreign national prisoners have been released. The Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has assured me that, in all cases, removal from the country will be pursued vigorously.

In the early hours of this morning, there was an incident at Lindholme detention centre. The Fire Service attended. The incident has been dealt with and there was no loss of accommodation.


Pauline Campbell
Posted on 2 Dec 2006 9:20 pm (Report this annotation)

John Reid's written statement to the House on 30.11.06, following the Harmondsworth riots, omits to mention that the Chief Inspector of Prisons [Anne Owers] has uncovered human-rights abuses time and again in more than 40 reports into immigration detention. She describes her new report on Harmondsworth as "undoubtedly the poorest ... we have issued on an immigration removal centre".

The Home Secretary states the "disturbance appears to have been an attempt to sabotage the enforcement of our immigration law". The detainees might say it was an attempt to draw attention to their level of despair, in a centre where five people have killed themselves since 1989 - four since 2000. Ms Owers has noted that "suicide and self-harm work was weak" at Harmondsworth. Mr Reid has omitted to mention this important information.

Some Harmondsworth detainees have been transferred to prisons, themselves in a "state of shambles", according to Lord David Ramsbotham, former Chief Inspector of Prisons. One can only hope they are not transferred to jails where human-rights abuses are problematic. Ms Owers has complained, in the New Statesman, 05.06.06, that in 2006 she should not be having to inspect prisons where menstruating women have to slop out, or when inmates in a high-security jail throw parcels of excrement through cell windows because they can't get access to toilets at night.

Mr Reid has been warned at a closed symposium on penal policy [29.11.06] that the situation inside overcrowded local prisons is now so volatile it endangers the staff [and presumably the inmates, too]. The loss of control at Britain's largest immigration centre increases the pressure faced by John Reid, who must now take urgent action.

John Reid has been accused of letting the tabloids dictate the home affairs agenda [The Guardian, 21.07.06]. This is foolhardy. He must set a target to limit the size of the prison population, and adopt a sustained high profile strategy to talk down the prison population, as suggested by Lord Dholakia.

Regarding Mr Reid's written ministerial statement, Theresa May MP has rightly pointed out [Commons debate, 30.11.06, Business of the House] that written statements should not be used by Ministers to avoid them having to come before the House to answer questions from Members.

Riot squad fights to regain control of immigration detention centre
The Guardian
30 November 2006

Centres of barbarism
The Guardian
2 December 2006

Home Secretary John Reid must be called to account.

Mark Bestford
Posted on 2 Dec 2006 9:35 pm (Report this annotation)

The treatment of asylum seekers by this government is nothing short of a national disgrace. The vilification of some of the most vulnerable people who come here with literally nothing but hope, often unable to communicate their needs due to the language barriers they face is barbaric. Where would this country now be if not for asylum seekers? The most British person alive, the quintessential Stephen Fry, but not be alive today if not for this nation's acceptance of asylum seekers. In the 1930's his family came here fleeing Nazi agression. Every member of the family who stayed behind was dead by the end of the war, killed in the Nazi death camps. If the rules of today had been applied 70 years ago his family would have been failed asylum seekers and sent back to die!