Europe’s largest immigration detention centre criticised by UK Prisons Inspector

‘Appalling’ decline in conditions is ‘unacceptable’, says Chief Inspector



Image: K Schneider/Flickr

Asylum seekers are being held for long periods at Europe’s largest immigration detention centre in “dirty and rundown” facilities infested with cockroaches and bed bugs.

Men were held in “overcrowded” and “poorly ventilated” cells with “seriously insanitary” toilets and showers at the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow according to a report by Peter Clarke, the new Chief Inspector of Prisons.



Prison Inspector calls for time limits on immigration detention

Mr Clarke said he was especially concerned about the length of time asylum seekers were held and repeated calls for time limits on how long people can be detained.

The report said a “significant” number of men were held for “excessive periods” when they should have been locked up for “the minimum period necessary”. Eighteen were held for more than a year while one had spent five years in total at the centre.

As we wrote earlier this month, Britain is the only European Union member state with no limit on the time that asylum seekers can be detained.



The Home Office’s procedures to prevent unreasonable detention were found to be ineffective. Medical tests showed some men were vulnerable, but they were detained nonetheless.

Many do not know how long they will be held for. According to the report, “nearly half said they had felt depressed or suicidal” when they arrived at the detention centre.

Harmondsworth can hold up to 661 detainees including asylum seekers, foreign offenders awaiting deportation and men who are in the UK illegally.

A cross-party group of MPs and peers has recommended that the next government should introduce a maximum time limit of 28 days on the length of time anyone can be detained in immigration detention.


UK company Mitie's old logo

UK company Mitie’s old logo. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Private contractor Mitie comes in for criticism 

Harmondsworth and the nearby Colnbrook immigration removal centre are run by Mitie’s Care and Custody division on behalf of the Home Office. It is one of seven of Britain’s 11 immigration detention centres that are run by private groups including Mitie, Serco, G4S, and Geo Group.

According to the Financial Times, Mitie cut costs after winning the £180m eight-year contract in September 2014:

“Mitie made savings by combining two management teams into one and cutting staff numbers. Approximately 500 staff now look after 1,100 detainees at an average cost of £55 a person a day, according to people familiar with the situation.”

The Prison Inspector’s report comes days after G4S said it would no longer manage juvenile prisons after a string of scandals.

Serco has also been criticised for its management of the Yarlswood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire. Channel 4 did this report last year.


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