British guards 'assault and racially abuse' deportees

Law Editor,Robert Verkaik
Friday 05 October 2007 00:00 BST

Hundreds of failed asylum-seekers deported from the United Kingdom claim they have been beaten and racially abused by British escort teams who are paid to take them back to their home countries,

The scale of the alleged abuse has been uncovered in a joint investigation by The Independent and a group co-ordinating the representation and medical care of failed asylum-seekers.

A dossier of 200 cases, collated by doctors, lawyers, immigration centre visitors and campaign groups over the past two years, has unearthed shocking claims of physical and mental mistreatment of some of the most vulnerable people in our asylum system.

Many of the claims include allegations of physical and sexual assault and racist abuse which took place during the long journey from Britain to their home countries.

One of the cases of alleged abuse is that of Armand Tchuibeu, a Cameroon national who claimed asylum in the United Kingdom in February 2000. His application was refused last year. He was then arrested and prepared for removal.

On 29 January 2007 he was collected from Tinsley House removal centre in East Sussex by four escort officers who drove him to Heathrow to catch a 9pm flight to Cameroon, as pictured on the front page from CCTV footage inside the van.

He claims handcuffs were applied to his right arm. Mr Tchuibeu says he told the guards that there was no need to handcuff him as he had no intention of obstructing his removal. But he alleges that officers started to manhandle him and, while his arms were held, one of the officers punched him in his ribs and on his neck and told him words to the effect "You will go to your fucking country today, we will fucking show you what illegal people deserve in our country". Another officer is alleged to have held his head down so they could apply a leg strap.

Eventually, Mr Tchuibeu convinced the escort officers he had been injured and the deportation was aborted. Mr Tchuibeu was taken to the Hillingdon Hospital where he was examined and treated. His knee was placed in a cylinder cast which he wore for four weeks.

Mr Tchuibeu, who is being represented by the London solicitors Birnberg Peirce, is now bringing a civil claim for assault against the security company.

The authors of the 200-case dossier accuse the Government of turning a blind eye to the abuse in order to meet arbitrary targets for the forced repatriation of asylum-seekers.

They say some of the cases they are investigating are worse than the torture and abuse the refugee suffered before making their asylum claim in this country.

In nearly every case, the allegation of mistreatment is made against private security contractors employed by the Government to carry out enforced removals of asylum-seekers.

Mr Tchuibeu appears to be far from an isolated case.

Milton Apollo Okello, 25, who was tortured by the Ugandan security services, claims that, after his asylum claim was rejected, he was frogmarched on to a plane and tied to his seat by British guards.

But when word came through that he had won an eleventh-hour reprieve, Mr Okello claims he was taken to a van and beaten and racially abused. Mr Okello said: "The driver opened the sliding door and I was pushed into the middle of the seat. Two of the officers got on one side of me and the others came in on the other side. Officer A then punched me hard in the face and he said "These black monkeys don't want to go back to their country ..."

A 24-year-old man who escaped to Britain after being imprisoned and tortured in the Republic of Congo claims that when he refused to sign a document presented to him by his escorts, three of them forced both hands backwards. One of the escorts is said to have told him: "This is the key to going home."

A doctor who later conducted an examination of Mr A, wrote: "The fourth metacarpal of the left hand has undoubtedly suffered a fracture. This is highly consistent with excessive use of force during or after a failed attempt to remove him from the UK."

Dr Frank Arnold, a volunteer doctor with the Medical Justice Network, who has examined more than 100 detained asylum-seekers, says many of the injuries suffered during removal are not taken seriously enough by the British immigration authorities.

He said: "Some of these injuries have been so bad that police officers who saw them appear to have been genuinely shocked. But it is my experience that medical staff who examine asylum-seekers when they are taken back into detention have greatly underestimated the severity of the injuries, including fractures and nerve damage from forcible traction on handcuffs."

In the past two years government figures show that 1,173 attempts to remove failed asylum-seekers, such ase Mr Tchuibeu have failed.

The majority of those are due to the disruptive behaviour of the detainee on board the aircraft or because of an eleventh-hour judicial intervention. But others fail because of injuries suffered or the deterioration in the physical or mental health of the asylum-seeker during the removal process.

Last month Mr Tchuibeu was returned to the Cameroon. After a police investigation, no one has been charged with an offence. The company denies the allegations of brutality made against its staff.

A spokesman for the Border and Immigration Agency which contracts the security companies to help carry out the removals said: "Any allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and all allegations of physical and racial abuse are referred to the police."

Three security firms are on the Government's approved list for the forced removal of failed asylum-seekers. They are Group4Securicor, ITA Group and GEO, an American company

A spokesman said Group4- Securicor was aware of complaints made but said they had never been proven – adding the company would condemn any such action. GEO and International Training Academy both declined to comment.

Terror of Flight 101: An echo of Orwell

The flight leaves Heathrow airport's Terminal Four, every Wednesday bearing the number KQ101. The echo of George Orwell's Room 101 is unhappily appropriate. On this Kenya Airways jet, many asylum-seekers' worst nightmares do come true. KQ101 is the deportation flight chartered by the British Government to return refugees to Africa. According to human rights groups, this flight carries out the most Africa-bound removals of unsuccessful asylum applicants to the UK. It has also become a flight that has attracted allegations of abuse by guards. From Nairobi the detainees are flown all over Africa where they are handed over to security and immigration authorities.

Last night the Home Office said it had a number of contracts with airlines for scheduled and charter flights which involved the removal of failed asylum-seekers. A spokeswoman from Kenya Airways confirmed it had a contract with the Government to fly failed asylum seekers to Africa. "We have not received any complaints about these flights," she said.

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