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Inspectors reveal desolate, appalling conditions at Harmondsworth detention camp


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The new HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is not holding his punches. Peter Clarke’s first report is on the Harmondsworth detention camp used for short and long term detention of migrants near Heathrow airport. In an unannounced inspection his team found “appalling” and “desolate” conditions for detainees. You can access the full report here.

The last inspection was in 2013 and was highly critical even then. The situation has since deteriorated. Conditions in some residential “units” (presumably meaning the cells) were found to be “appalling”, dirty and run down, overcrowded and poorly ventilated, with toilets and showers in a “seriously unsanitary condition”. Clarke writes that the centre “should never have been allowed to reach this state.”

Vulnerability of the detained men was found to have increased, with an increase in those saying they felt unsafe or victimised, 80% reporting that they experienced problems on arrival and nearly half saying they felt depressed or suicidal.

The Chief Inspector also found that well over half of detainees were detained for over a month, 18 for over one year and one detainee had been detained for an aggregate of over five years on and off. Recommendation 1.71 reads:

There should be a time limit on the length of detention.

Meanwhile, in the recently released quarterly immigration statistics, we learn that use of detention has yet again increased to its highest level yet. At the same time, enforced removals have declined, voluntary departures have declined and the proportion of detainees removed from the UK from detention (the supposed lawful purpose of immigration detention) has declined again.

It all begs the question: what would it take for the Home Office and its officials to change their approach to the use of immigration detention?

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.