WHEN the Chief Inspector of Prisons can call a detention centre “one of the better establishments we have inspected,” despite 40 per cent of male detainees saying they feel unsafe, you learn something about the state of our immigration system.
There is praise for the Tinsley House immigration removal centre in Peter Clarke’s report, but he admits it “could not fully replicate the welcoming, open environment” he ascribes to its predecessor Cedars.
Cedars was closed because of its “high expense” and cost-cutting at the expense of staff and inmate welfare has been a theme across the prison sector as well as the immigration system ever since the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took an axe to our public services in 2010.
It raises its head in staff being “shared” between Tinsley and the notorious Brook House, where an undercover Panorama investigation last autumn exposed widespread violence, neglect and abuse of inmates, including children, by employees of G4S, the firm which runs Tinsley as well as Brook.
It crops up again when inspectors found that families’ freedom to move around the centre had been reduced from 17 hours a day to just 12 and that they were confined on top of that for two half-hour periods a day to be counted.
Clarke’s report notes that, during the inspection, children witnessed their parents being restrained.
It points out that of 10 cases where doctors advised the Home Office a detainee may have been a victim of torture, the government accepted the evidence in eight and continued to detain the victims anyway.
And shockingly it found that staff threatened detainees with transfer to Brook House if they caused trouble.
“It was a concern that detainees and staff regarded being moved to another immigration removal centre as a punishment,” Clarke observes in his best officialese.
It’s more than a concern. It suggests that, despite a national scandal, a government-commissioned review by Stephen Shaw and an independent one by Kate Lampard, G4S doesn’t take its own promise to “make sure that [the abuse] can’t happen again” seriously.
And why should it? The government has made clear it has no intention of holding the outsourcing giant to account time and time again.
It did so at Brook House in May. The very month after Sajid Javid took the reins at the Home Office following Amber Rudd’s forced resignation over the Tories’ racist deportation threats to members of the Windrush generation, his department quietly extended the G4S contract to run the centre by two years.
So much for ending “the hostile environment.” The treatment of asylum-seekers by this government is a disgrace.
The accumulated bile of eight years of Conservative and gutter press sneers, with people fleeing for their lives described as a “swarm” or “cockroaches,” and the desperate residents of a ramshackle refugee camp dismissed as a “bunch of migrants” — two of those insults came from then prime minister David Cameron — has poisoned our politics.
Small wonder the far right can now mobilise significant numbers of thugs on the streets against the supposed Muslim threat, as the English Defence League will try to do in Worcester tomorrow.
Small wonder half the signatories to the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’s anti-Corbyn petition railed at the Labour leader for wanting to “flood the country” with immigrants, “hating white people” and being “a disgrace to the people actually born and bred in this country.”
The election of a Labour government is urgent if we are to establish a humanitarian, compassionate, properly funded and publicly owned and controlled approach to asylum and immigration.
A mass mobilisation against the far right — and in defence of a Labour leadership committed as none before it to taking on and defeating racism at every level in our communities and our institutions — is just as urgent.