Report on 'abuse' of asylum seekers to be published

Criticism of immigration officers and private security guards expected to be made by former police ombudsman
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The Independent Online

The Government faces criticism over allegations of abuse of asylum seekers by British guards during their detention and removal from this country. A report to be published next week is expected to make recommendations regarding the use of force by immigration officers and private security guards.

The report by Dame Nuala O'Loan, the former Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland, investigated allegations of mistreatment first reported in The Independent more than two years ago.

Dame Nuala, who won praise and criticism from Catholics and Protestants for her robust style in dealing with complaints against the Northern Irish police and led the inquiry into the handling of the Omagh bombing, has been given a wide remit to reopen cases of alleged brutality.

She will report on any failures of a system that allows private security guards to use "reasonable force" in restraining asylum-seekers. Her appointment followed the publication of a detailed report in July 2008 that revealed nearly 300 cases of alleged physical assault and racial abuse in a four-year period.

The report, entitled Outsourcing Abuse, raised concerns about the control and use of private security firms in the detention and deportation of some of the most vulnerable people in British society. The violence, institutionalised racism and seemingly systemic abuse detailed within it was described at the time as being just the "tip of the iceberg".

The allegations included evidence that guards had repeatedly shouted racist abuse at refugees. They were labelled "slaves", "black pigs", and "monkeys" – and were repeatedly told to "go back to their own countries". The Home Office's own Complaints Audit Committee reported that in a four-month period last year, there were 177 complaints of "misconduct", many of which related to racism.

Emma Ginn, one of the authors of Outsourcing Abuse, said: "We have come across widespread abuse of vulnerable people who fled their own countries seeking safety and refuge.

"Our volunteer doctors have seen an alarming number of injuries at the hands of private 'escorts' contracted by the Home Office who have largely brushed off any complaints."

She added: "The Government is driven by seemingly arbitrary targets on deportation. We fear these may lead to further abuse.

"In 2008 they announced a near doubling of detention capacity. In January they revealed they are discussing the redesignation of two prisons to immigration removal centres."

The Home Office says that it thoroughly investigates all complaints of such a nature but it does not recognise the large numbers contained in the report.