Safety and respect lacking across detention estate says HMIP

Yarl’s Wood “cause for great concern” and vulnerable detainees at risk


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Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre remains “cause for great concern”, the UK’s largest detention centres lack safety and respect, and asylum seekers have been held in “unacceptable” conditions sleeping in dirty blankets on concrete floors, according to the annual report of Chief prisons inspector Peter Clarke, released last week.

Key Findings:

  • Asylum seekers held in “totally unacceptable” conditions at Longport Freight Shed without HMIP knowledge or authorisation.
  • Yarl’s Wood singled out as worst detention centre, giving “cause for great concern”.
  • Torture victims kept in detention despite Rule 35 prohibition.
  • Hundreds of immigration detainees remain in prison after completing their sentences.
  • Small detention centres perform consistently better than large ones, which lack safety and respect.



Asylum seekers found in “unacceptable conditions” at unauthorised centre

Longport Freight Shed, a makeshift facility unknown to HMIP, housed asylum seekers for months in “totally unacceptable” conditions, says the report. The short term holding centre was discovered in summer 2015 when inspectors made a visit to nearby Dover immigration removal centre.

The people inside, many of whom had scabies and diarrhoea, slept on concrete floors and in unwashed blankets. Washing and toilet facilities were inadequate and people pointed to their mouths to indicate hunger, the report states.

Clarke states in his report that the existence of the centre, which has since been closed,

“betrays a shocking lack of contingency planning and agile response to a developing, although entirely predictable, situation.”



Protest at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Credit: Darren Johnson/Flickr


Yarl’s Wood remains “cause for great concern”

The report acknowledges the substantial negative media publicity around the women-only detention centre Yarl’s Wood, and points to “proven instances of inappropriate sexual relationships between staff and detainees which, given the power imbalance and vulnerability of detained women, were clearly abusive.” 

Those involved were fired and there is “no evidence of a current widespread abusive or hostile culture among staff”, says Clarke, but more than half of the women asked said they felt depressed or suicidal on arrival, there were not enough female staff, and inspectors “had serious concerns about the capacity of the health care provider”, Serco, according to the report.

The centre was found to have deteriorated since the previous inspection, and:

“Rule 35 [torture] reports were among the worst that we have seen, for example, giving wholly inadequate attention to the impact of rape and sexual violence.” 



Protest at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Credit: Darren Johnson/Flickr


Torture victims kept locked up without justification

Detainees assessed by doctors to be torture victims in “Rule 35 reports” should be released except in exceptional circumstances, according to UK law.

According to Clarke, however, “we found the protections offered by the Rule 35 process, once again, to be inadequate in every inspected centre.

The report notes that in response to one Rule 35 report, “the Home Office reply was ‘you may have been a victim of torture. However, it has been decided that you will remain in detention’. The reply did not explain the very exceptional circumstances to justify continued detention.”



Detainees in prison “disadvantaged”

At the end of 2015, 418 people were held in prisons under immigration act rules after completing their sentences. According to Clarke, “too many low risk detainees were held in prisons where the conditions they experienced were unacceptable.”

These detainees are “substantially disadvantaged compared with detainees in IRCs,” states the report:

“they are held in much more restrictive conditions, do not have the same opportunities for communication with lawyers and families, and have less access to legal advice and support from community organisations.”

centre outcomes


Larger centres “less safe and respectful” than smaller ones

Harmondsworth, The Verne and Yarl’s Wood were “less safe and respectful” than smaller centres Tinsley House and Dungavel House. According to the report, “None of [the former] was sufficiently safe, and only The Verne provided a reasonably respectful environment for detainees.”

By contrast,”While there were some problems with the accommodation at Tinsley House and Dungavel, it was much less prison-like than at the other centres. The general environment in these centres was less forbidding and the atmosphere more relaxed, in line with the intention of the Detention Centre Rules.”


Finally, the report reiterates the findings of the 2015 Shaw Review that a statutory time limit to immigration detention should be introduced. “Our continuing concerns about prolonged detention led us to recommend that detention should be time limited,” concludes Clarke.


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