Sacrificing women asylum seekers on the altar of speed and convenience

 

Since 2003, those seeking asylum who come to the United Kingdom are greeted with what the State delicately refers to as the Detained Fast-Track Asylum System, or DFT. The only thing systematic in DFT is violence, and in particular violence against women. Two weeks ago, the High Court found the system unlawful and should be ended immediately. The State replied that stopping the system would be “inconvenient”, and the high court agreed, granting a stay on the order. Detention Action appealed the delay, and last Friday, the Court of Appeals agreed with them, meaning the system has to close down. The Home Office is in chaos.

The State loves throwing asylum seekers behind bars. In 2013, the latest figures available show 4,286 asylum seekers locked up, via DFT, in Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook or Harmondsworth. 4,286 human beings seeking help and haven end up in cages. In 2012, Detained Fast Track sent 2,477 asylum seekers to Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth. That’s an increase of 73% in one year. Cruelty and inhumanity are a growth industry.

This is the third time Detained Fast Track has been found unlawful. As Detention Action noted, “The High Court first ruled in July 2014 that the operation of the Detained Fast Track was at the time unlawful. Then, on 16th December 2014 the Court of Appeal found that the detention of asylum seekers who were not at risk of absconding whilst their appeals are pending was unlawful. Yet still the Fast Track continues.”

Now asylum seekers might be able to apply for bail. Having faced war, destitution, sexual violence in their home countries, and often in their homes, having made it to England only to be jailed, having often undergone further intimidation, brutality, including sexual violence, at the hands of the prison staff, these `dangers to society’ might be able to approach the shadowlands of due process. It’s not justice, but at least it’s due process.

The latest High Court trial was heard before High Court Justice Andrew Nicol, who concluded, “In my judgment the FTR [Fast Track Rules] do incorporate structural unfairness. They put the Appellant at a serious procedural disadvantage … What seems to me to make the FTR structurally unfair is the serious procedural disadvantage which comes from the abbreviated timetable and curtailed case management powers together with the imposition of this disadvantage on the appellant by the respondent to the appeal.”

Justice Nicol goes on to discuss what happens when `efficiency’ trumps justice:

“I recall that the SSHD [Secretary of State for the Home Department] opposed the TPC’s [Tribunal Procedure Committee] preliminary view that separate Fast Track Rules should be abolished and the Tribunal judiciary be left with discretion to shorten time limits either on an individual basis or through Practice Directions from the Chamber Presidents. As the TPC’s consultation document had said, `the Home Office is concerned that leaving procedures to the discretion of Tribunal Judges would not deliver the clear, consistent and truncated timetable that the current rules provide for.’

“From the perspective of an executive department that is a perfectly understandable objective, but it is not consistent with a procedural scheme which must give an element of priority to fairness and seeing that justice is done. On the contrary, it looks uncomfortably akin to what Sedley LJ in Refugee Legal Centre said should not happen, namely sacrificing fairness on the altar of speed and convenience.”

Fine words, and a good decision, but there is neither altar nor sacrifice in this tragedy. There was a determination that too many Black and Brown women – mostly African and Middle Eastern – would tip the boat, and so speed and `convenience’ justified the construction of a charnel-house network for those, and especially those women, “Black as if bereav’d of light,” whose only value is to enact death-in-life and then die, either behind bars or somewhere else. Shut it down. #SetHerFree

 

(Image Credit: Detention Action)

Harmondsworth, where a sense of humanity is lost

Asylum seekers in detention in the United Kingdom are on strike. They object to being treated as trash. The action began last Friday at Harmondsworth IRC, Immigration Removal Centre. Over 300 prisoners staged a sit-down protest and hunger strike. They are protesting the fast-track deportation program; the toxic health care system; the lack of access to legal representation, and more: “They’re not running detention. It’s like prison over here.”

The spark, this time, was a broken fax machine. The fax machine broke and was left broken for days. That meant prisoners could not file their appeals against deportation. Everything came to a standstill. For the prison, the fax was just another machine. For the prisoners, it meant life or death.

The urgency that turns a fax machine into a lifeline is produced by the fast-track system, which places practically every asylum seeker into a 14-day pressure cooker, during which they must do everything, from find an attorney to learn English to get comfortable speaking the unspeakable suffering and pain. Fourteen days. The detention center is not a detention center. It’s a prison. And the prison is not a prison. It’s a factory, and its business is removal.

On Tuesday, 20 prisoners in Brook House IRC staged an all-night protest in the exercise yard. They all refused to return to their cells. Over 50 prisoners at Colnbrook IRC have also engaged in a collective action. Yesterday, at Campsfield IRC, near Oxford, about 50 prisoners started a hunger strike. In each instance, the prison’s response has been to take the bulk of prisoners and dump them into solitary. That’s what you do with defective parts.

At 615 prisoners, Harmondsworth IRC is one of Europe’s largest detention centers. It has always been an abomination. The conditions have always been inhumane. Last year, a surprise visit by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found mismanagement and worse: “A number of security procedures lacked proportionality. Separation was being used excessively and was not in line with the Detention Centre Rules. Disturbingly, a lack of intelligent individual risk assessment had meant that most detainees were handcuffed on escort and on at least two occasions, elderly, vulnerable and incapacitated detainees, one of whom was terminally ill, were needlessly handcuffed in an excessive and unacceptable manner. These men were so ill that one died shortly after his handcuffs were removed and the other, an 84 year-old-man, died while still in restraints. These are shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost.”

They should be shocking cases. They’re not. The State responded by yanking the prison contract from Geo and giving it to Mitie, which is to say no response at all. Harmondsworth has been a private operation since the 1970s, and it’s been bad for forty years. There is no shock at the end of four decades of abuse.

Ten years ago, doctors commented on the inappropriate shackling of sick and dying prisoners: “I had told the manager of the centre that in my professional opinion handcuffing was wholly inappropriate. We have a number of detainees brought here in cuffs. The question is: at what point does a doctor’s intervention cease to carry weight?” There is no room for shock. In 2007, the Inspectorate found Harmondsworth was more a high-security prison than an immigration removal center, complete with over use of solitary confinement and unrestricted antagonism from prison staff. In other words, they found in 2007 what they found last year.

In 2004, the atrocity of Harmondsworth’s mental health care and health care was so bad it inspired doctors to form Medical Justice. Today, despite advocacy and services, the vulnerability of asylum seekers means less than nothing. It provides one more reason to speed up the line and move them out more quickly.

In 2005, Amnesty wrote extensively about the horror of Harmondsworth. In 2006, the Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers commented: ‘This is undoubtedly the poorest report we have issued on an Immigration Removal Centre’. And what comes of these reports? Some other corporation gets the contract, and then, two years later, the Inspector is shocked.

In 2010, the Inspector found there was no information about legal rights and no up to date legal materials available for prisoners. The only legal help for prisoners was a consultation room open for only ten hours a week. In any week, only 20 clients could be seen. So, the room was booked two weeks in advance. But unrepresented prisoners in the fast track could not defer their asylum interviews for lack of legal counsel. So, by the time legal help was available, their claims had been refused and appeals dismissed. It’s a perfect amped up production line factory system.

Since 1989, 21 people have died in immigration removal centers in the United Kingdom. At the top of the list, with eight deaths, is the Harmondsworth IRC. Stop being `shocked’. Close Harmondsworth. End the brutality of fast-track asylum, which turns time into torture. One Campsfield prisoner explained, “We want our freedom. We want our life with dignity.” It’s time.

 

(Photo Credit: Snipview.com)