Cabin Cruelty: More trouble at the UK Borders Agency

26 January 2012

Emma Norton, Legal Officer

Potentially lethal restraint techniques. Insufficient attention paid to people with medical conditions. Racist language. Those were just some of the findings of a report into the treatment of deportees, published today. The Commons home affairs select committee inquiry unearthed alarming evidence of inappropriate use of physical restraint on people being removed by air.

Sadly we’re not surprised by such discoveries. At Liberty we’ve long been concerned about the UK Borders Agency’s removal of people from the UK via private escort contractors – formerly G4S, now Reliance Security. Today’s report vindicates our worst fears.

Our current work on this issue began after the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who died while being deported from Heathrow to Angola in 2010. We received many other complaints of excessive force during air removals, so we asked to see the UKBA’s policy. We wanted to know what techniques their contractors were resorting to, and under what circumstances deportees were being physically restrained.

Predictably the UKBA refused to disclose its policy in full. But even what we were shown set alarm bells ringing. There was no provision whatsoever for training staff for aircraft removals – all scenarios related solely to prisons. The approach towards medical care was inconsistent at best, and little or no attention had been paid to de-escalation techniques. It’s not hard to work out that dealing with a distressed deportee on a long flight, confined inside a claustrophobic cabin, might pose particular challenges and health risks. But there was absolutely nothing to suggest the UKBA appreciated this.

Motivated by those concerns we issued a judicial review of the policy. Currently it fails miserably to provide enough protection for people being deported by air. Removals conducted under the present arrangements are potentially lethal.

No-one’s suggesting that removing people from the UK is easy, and we accept that sometimes staff will have to restrain deportees. But again and again we’ve received reports of traumatised people being subjected to overly excessive and painful force – not to mention racial abuse.

The UKBA has a duty to ensure its contractors are properly trained and skilled. Our legal challenge is ongoing, and the Commons inquiry has shed further light on the existing system’s flaws. How many more damning indictments of current procedure does the UKBA need before it does something about it?