Author: Billy Briggs
Asylum seekers were shackled for up to 17 hours while being forcibly removed from the UK by a private firm, with one “frightened” woman handcuffed, put in leg and waist restraints and carried onto an aircraft.
A new report by Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP), has raised concerns over the use of constraints on people who presented “no risk” during a Home Office operation this year, when 23 people were removed by private companies.
Thirteen of 23 detainees taken from immigration removal centres (IRCs) were placed in waist restraint belts, and all remained in them until they arrived at destinations in France and Bulgaria, up to 17 hours later.
One man was put in a waist restraint belt – where hands are clamped to belts – because he took too long calling his solicitor. He was kept in it despite apologising and being fully compliant throughout.
Two women were among the group removed including one who was clearly distressed while force was used against her.
HMCIP said the use of constraints “seriously marred” the removal and that asylum seekers must be treated with dignity. The report added that staff should only use force against people under escort as a “last resort”.
In response, critics described the removals as “horrific” and “shocking” while condemning the UK Government’s immigration policy as “morally bankrupt”.
The Home Office’s Third Country Unit (TCU) manages immigration removals but concerns have been raised over how people are treated by private firm, Tascor, and its use of restraints.
The detainees had been taken from Colnbrook and Harmondsworth IRCs in southern England and the flight was from Doncaster Sheffield Airport, which led to some long journeys.
Some people spent nine hours on a coach before the flight, the report says, adding that four detainees had been on suicide watch in an IRC, prior to being removed.
There were 74 escort staff to remove 22 people including two “actively resisting detainees” who were carried onto the aircraft. The Home Office chartered the aircraft, which was an Airbus A320.
HMCIP – which had two inspectors observing – described the operation as “poor”. It said: “Many detainees who presented little or no obvious risk were placed in belts, with little justification, and stayed in them for very long periods. This seriously marred what was otherwise a generally efficient operation, during which we saw some good practice.”
The report added: “Escort staff have a difficult role to perform, but there can be no compromise on their duty to treat detainees in a dignified and proportionate way while they are being removed from the country.”
People removed included two female detainees who had been held in the Sahara women’s unit at Colnbrook. One was compliant throughout, but the other appeared “frightened” on seeing staff who came to collect her.
The report said: “She shouted ‘no’ repeatedly and would not leave the unit. Force was used only when it became clear that she would not leave and her family would not encourage her to do so.
“Two female officers and one male officer struggled for a couple of minutes to establish a hold on her and apply. She was then carried to the discharge area, where Tascor escorts applied a waist restraint belt, which was appropriate in this case; she was carried to the aircraft in the belt and a leg restraint.”
The UK is party to the Dublin Convention, an European Union law that determines which member state is responsible for an asylum claim. It also allows states to transfer an asylum seeker to the responsible country.
The Home Office’s TCU manages removals to and from the UK, and many detainees are returned to third countries using scheduled flights. But in February 2017 the Home Office started to use charter aircraft to remove groups of people.
HMCIP’s report covers a second inspection of a TCU charter removal. The first inspection took place in January 2018.