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Report Exposes Dire Conditions and Safety Concerns at West London Immigration Detention Centre

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Prisons oversight authority reports 'unprecedentedly poor conditions' at a west London immigration facility

Multiple instances of suicide attempts were recorded among detainees at the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, one of which occurred during the evaluation.

Local communities reporter @BeckyJohnsonSky

Tuesday, July 9, 2024, 2:

Investigators have reported the most appalling conditions they've encountered in immigration holding facilities at a location near Heathrow in West London.

During a February inspection, the conditions were troubling enough that Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector of prisons, felt compelled to write to the then Home Secretary James Cleverly. Unfortunately, he did not receive a response.

A trip to Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre uncovered a "truly shocking" level of disorder, characterized by violence and drug use.

Multiple individuals detained at the facility had attempted suicide, with one such incident occurring during an inspection, resulting in severe injuries to the person involved.

Reviewers determined that the assistance provided to individuals who reported feeling suicidal was "inadequate."

Explore further: 'Unrest' at immigration detention facility amid electricity failure. 'Devastated' dad battles removal after spending 23 years in the UK.

A recent report after a site visit reveals that due to a lack of available space in prisons, an increased number of ex-inmates were housed in Harmondsworth with individuals who have no criminal records.

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Since the previous review in 2017, the number of assaults had increased twofold, and drug use, typically uncommon in immigration detention facilities, had become pervasive.

Inspectors noted a noticeable odor of cannabis and observed inmates freely smoking in shared spaces, unaddressed by staff members who predominantly remained in their offices, marked by "do not enter" signs.

Approximately 66% of the detainees in the facility, which has a capacity of nearly 700 men, reported feeling unsafe within its confines.

Mr. Taylor stated, "The amount of disorder we encountered at Harmondsworth was astonishingly severe, and we departed with grave concerns for the safety of some individuals detained there, who appeared to be in immediate danger."

"It is inappropriate to hold individuals in an immigration removal center if they are not going to be promptly deported. However, statistics show that approximately 60% of those held were eventually freed, while only one third were actually deported. This raises concerns about the efficacy and cost of using taxpayer funds to detain these individuals initially."

Authorities discovered that the facility had increased its capacity by having cells accommodate two individuals each, except for those deemed to be in danger of significant harm.

Two days later, individuals who declined room sharing were escorted to an isolation area by personnel fully clad in protective gear, where they remained until they consented to share a room.

Mitie Care and Custody, the operator of the facility, encountered several difficulties such as a lack of sufficient staff and a chaotic re-bidding process overseen by the Home Office, leaving its management uncertain about their future involvement with the center in the upcoming months.

The study highlighted that the pervasive uncertainty rendered the recruitment of permanent senior staff extremely difficult, as these positions could last only a few weeks.

Mr. Taylor noted that the new director was well aware of the various challenges and was starting to make headway. However, he emphasized that her success would depend on receiving robust and ongoing support from all levels.

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A spokesperson from the Home Office stated: "The well-being and security of individuals under our supervision is a top priority, and it is crucial that the processes of detention and deportation are conducted with decency and regard."

"Since the inspection, there has been an increase in the number of custody officers and dedicated welfare personnel at Harmondsworth IRC."

Stay informed with current events from the UK and globally by tuning into Sky News.

A spokesperson for Mitie expressed: "We recognize that the quality and conditions observed during the surprise inspection in February 2024 did not meet our usual standards for this facility. Nevertheless, several significant external factors influenced the circumstances at the IRC during this period.

"In collaboration with the Home Office, substantial measures have been implemented to tackle the issues identified by the inspectorate. It is encouraging to note that the HMIP report recognizes the enhancements made since February."

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