Liberty calls for investigation in mistreatment of asylum seekers

21 May 2007

Liberty Legal Officer, Alex Gask said:

'It is clear that abuses at Harmondsworth detention centre sparked the disorder in November, abuses which escalated during the disturbance itself. These men deserve a public inquiry into the ill-treatment they faced; anything less could result in legal action.'

Should the Home Secretary refuse, Liberty intends to seek a judicial review of his decision on behalf of seven detainees it is representing - an unprecedented move that would see Britain's immigration system placed under scrutiny in the courts.

Liberty believes that hunger strikes, destructive behaviour and self-harm are now endemic in Britain's biggest detention centres as detainees become increasingly desperate about living in what they claim are deteriorating conditions. The November disturbance at Harmondsworth was the second such incident in less than 2 ½ years. At Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, more than 100 women are refusing to eat, and there have been recent reports of major disturbances at Lindholme, South Yorkshire, and at Colnbrook in Middlesex.

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Notes to editors:

(1) The Liberty report refers to a clutch of testimonies from detainees about the conditions in Harmondsworth both during and before the disturbance. One man interviewed for the study told how he was taken to the centre's medical clinic suffering from a bad back. 'They just abandoned me,' the man said. 'There was no doctor and, when I asked where the doctor was, the detention officers laughed at me ... One of them stepped on the hem of my trousers to make me fall over. He then started laughing and called me a "fucking negro".'

(2) The report shows that solitary confinement as a punishment for speaking out at Harmondsworth is common, according to Liberty’s witnesses. 'If we made a complaint we would be given a warning,' one man known as 'K' told Liberty. 'If we were given three warnings, we would be put in an isolated cell. We were scared of making complaints against officers because we expected to be treated badly if we did. We were treated like pigs and very unfairly, as if we were serious criminals.'

(3) Detainees also describe how, during the disturbance itself, innocent bystanders were locked in dark, overcrowded and flooded cells for up to 40hrs without circulating air, food, water, toilet facilities or medical attention. They were terrified of fire, electrocution and gas leaks, and were given no information or support by the authorities.

(3) So far Kalyx, which runs Harmondsworth, have declined to comment