Immigration centres accused of racism by official report

Last updated at 17:56 03 January 2008

A catalogue of racist behaviour inside Britain's immigration detention centres was exposed by an official report today.

Immigration offenders and failed asylum seekers at one centre, Colnbrook near Heathrow airport, were taunted by one female officer with: "Animals, lock-up time".

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The report, commissioned by the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA), described the atmosphere at Colnbrook, which holds up to 360 men and women, as "distressing" and "turbulent".

Many detainees who had previously been held in jails said they would prefer to be back in prison than in Colnbrook, the audit team from Focus Consultancy added.

At Lindholme immigration removal centre in South Yorkshire, one member of staff described north African detainees as "donkeys", accompanied by "full animal sounds", the report said.

The officer has since been dismissed and there were generally good relations between staff and detainees at the 112-bed centre, the report said.

At Harmondsworth immigration removal centre, also near Heathrow, the document said: "Regular taunting of detainees by some officers goes unchallenged."

Repeated patterns of alleged racist incidents were missed by the in-house investigation process, it added.

There were even "staff on staff" problems at Harmondsworth, where an auditor overheard a senior officer tell an Asian colleague: "Talk proper, I can't understand you."

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Asylum seekers

The report was commissioned by the Home Office's BIA after a TV documentary in 2005 exposed racism and mistreatment at Oakington immigration centre in Cambridgeshire.

Rating each of the 10 centres with a series of performance scores, today's report ranked Harmondsworth - run by private company Kalyx - as the worst, with a percentage score of 35 per cent.

Haslar in Hampshire scored the top mark (81 per cent) and second was Dover (77 per cent) - both are operated in the public sector by the Prison Service.

The inspection team also found a "tense" atmosphere at the Campsfield House centre in Oxfordshire, where one member of staff said: "If this was white British people in here we would be a lot stricter, it is because they are black people that we are afraid."

In Tinsley House removal centre at Gatwick airport a member of staff said detainees should be treated "like five-year-olds".

And at Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire - which was half destroyed by a fire shortly after its opening in 2002 - the report recommended cultural awareness training for staff after a CCTV operator raised the alarm about a "riot" in the library which was, in fact, an enthusiastic game of checkers by Jamaican inmates.

"Their loud speech and slamming of fists on the table had been interpreted as aggressive behaviour," the report noted.

One member of staff at Yarl's Wood told auditors that white detainees would be treated with more discipline, but the presence of black people caused "paralysis and a softer approach".

BIA chief executive Lin Homer said: "The BIA takes any allegation of abuse or misconduct very seriously which is why we commissioned this report.

"We are pleased the report recognises that race relations procedures are operating above average at nine out of 10 removal centres.

"Our aim, however, is further improvement and to that end we will consider the recommendations closely."

She added: "Removing people from the UK, when they have no legal right to be here, is about fairness and enforcing the rules.

"However it is important to treat those being detained with courtesy and dignity, and to effect their removal in the same spirit."