Immigration officers balk at issue of handcuffs and CS spray

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The Independent Online
IMMIGRATION OFFICERS are to be taught how to use CS spray and batons, shown how to handcuff and restrain prisoners and be instructed in unarmed combat. The officers, most of whom are normally involved in paper work, will be fitted out with body armour.

The training, to be provided by the police, is a consequence of new powers to be granted to officers. They are to be given the right to arrest, search and restrain asylum-seekers without a warrant in measures contained in the Asylum and Immigration Bill now going through parliament.

Not only will the police carry out the training, they will also formally test the officers.

But many officers, led by their union, have told ministers they do not want the new responsibility. They fear a repeat of the controversial Joy Gardner case in 1993 when a 40-year-old illegal immigrant was seized by five police officers and an immigration officer after a struggle. She went into a coma and died four days later.

They also fear that their safety could be put at risk and that the new powers could lead to distrust developing among the immigrant communities they work with.

The new powers are being opposed by the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents 900 immigration officers, and up to 100 backbench Labour MPs.

The union leaders have told ministers that the police should continue to be responsible for removing illegal immigrants from their homes.

John Oliver, secretary of the immigration staff branch of the union, said: "The immigration service is largely a bureaucratic organisation, but this will lead to a dramatic change of emphasis to its role. We are worried about the safety of immigration officers. What happens if things go wrong after arrest? This is not what we are about. We fear race relations could suffer."

A memo last month entitled "arrest pilot training" discusses the establishment of three-week training courses run by the police on illegal immigrant arrest techniques.

"Competencies in (for example) handcuffing and first aid will be certificated, and there will be the opportunity during the course for re-test for near- miss failures," the memo said.

Meanwhile, a black market in vouchers for asylum-seekers, leading to profiteering by crime gangs, is being forecast by local councils.

Kent County Council, which houses one of the biggest populations of asylum-seekers in Britain, said that a black economy in the vouchers had developed since it began using them. It has advised MPs that the system is expensive, bureaucratic and can lead to exploitation and stigmatisation of asylum-seekers.

Local police were called in after asylum-seekers, given vouchers for clothes and food instead of income support, were found trading the slips for alcohol, cigarettes and money. In one case a landlord told asylum- seekers to collect enough vouchers to buy him a washing machine in return for cash.

In most cases the asylum-seekers traded the vouchers, redeemable at designated supermarkets, for less than their face value.

The Government is proposing a national system giving asylum-seekers pounds 1 a day cash and the rest of their weekly income - around pounds 30 for single adults - in vouchers. But the scheme could lead to a revolt by Labour MPs. It is also being sharply opposed by Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader.