The Home Office has announced that G4S will run welfare support services for families awaiting deportation in one of its detention facilities. The private security company will take over from children’s charity Barnardo’s who previously provided services at Cedars, a UK Visa and Immigration ‘pre-departure accommodation’ facility. But G4S have a history of claims of abuse, neglect and even a death in their custody. Far from guaranteeing welfare, will the new providers expose children and their families to an environment whose safety is routinely questioned?
In 2011 the Home Office made a distinction by ending indefinite detention of children at immigration removal centres and establishing specialist pre-departure accommodation for families with children, which is time limited to 72-hours before removal. Yet now families will be held at Tinsley House immigration removal centre as part of a "discrete unit", bringing the two forms of detention closer together again. When the government announced these changes last year Barnardo’s made clear they couldn’t support the move. “(W)e do not feel that the new proposed accommodation is in the best interests of the children and have told ministers we cannot support the move.” said the charity’s chief executive, Javed Khan, in a statement last July.
As part of their role in the detention process Barnardo’s were responsible for bringing to light an incident at the Cedars facility when a pregnant woman had her wheelchair tipped up and feet held by guards, described as "simply not acceptable" in a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. But families will now be at G4S’s sole care despite the fact that they have surely done more than enough to bring the level of care they provide into doubt.
Six years ago Jimmy Mubenga, a 43-year-old husband and father of five, died in the custody of G4S whilst being deported to Angola on a British Airways flight. Passengers who witnessed the incident told jurors at a trial of three deportation custody officers that Mubenga could be heard calling out “I can’t breathe. They are going to kill me.” as he was being restrained. In 2013 an inquest jury at Isleworth Crown Court returned a nine-to-one verdict finding that Mubenga had been ‘unlawfully killed’, although three G4S guards were subsequently found not guilty of manslaughter. Investigations into the death reported racist text messages circulating amongst colleagues on two of the guards’ mobile phones.
There is little to prove too that G4S’s approach to children is any less worrying. Undercover filming by the BBC’s Panorama at Medway youth jail in Kent reported on staff from the private security firm using excessive force on children. Six prison staff were charged with misconduct in public office and last May the Ministry of Justice took over operation of the jail.
With this track record, in my opinion G4S should have no role curating welfare services for vulnerable people detained by our government. The Home Office’s decision to continue employing the firm despite its history reveals just how far it is willing to take the ‘hostile environment’ policy.
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