UK: Enforced removals report echoes Amnesty's concerns

Amnesty International has welcomed the report today by the Home Affairs select Committee into the “Rules governing enforced removals from the UK”. The report is yet another damning indictment of using private contractors to run the enforced removal programme.  The system is not fit for purpose and needs a complete and radical overhaul to ensure that it runs fairly, openly and with no risk to the individuals’ lives, Amnesty said.

In May last year, Amnesty submitted written evidence to the Committee outlining a number of policy recommendations, all of which have been recognised in the Committee’s own recommendations. Subsequently in July we issued our report, 'Out of Control: The case for a complete overhaul of enforced removals by private contractors'

Both Amnesty and the Committee found that private contractors were poorly trained, were using dangerous restraint techniques such as restraint holds that impaired breathing and that there were instances of the improper use of manual restraints such as rigid bar handcuffs. The report also reiterated that the contractors had never developed safe and appropriate techniques for use on board aircraft and that staff had not been trained in specific scenarios, despite running the contract for almost two decades.

Both the Committee’s report and Amnesty’s findings last year were written against the backdrop of the death of Jimmy Mubenga, during a removal in October 2010. Three of the guards involved in that removal were arrested, and remain under police investigation on bail. The case raises concerns about the use of dangerous and life-threatening restraint techniques. One such technique was nick-named by contractors “Carpet Karaoke”, as it involved forcing an individual’s face down towards the carpet with such force that they were only able to scream inarticulately ‘like a bad karaoke singer’. It involves the seated detainee being handcuffed, with a tight seatbelt through the cuffs and their head pushed down between their legs. There is a serious risk of death by positional asphyxia when this technique is used.

Oliver Sprague, Arms, Security & Policing Programme Director at Amnesty International UK, said:

“Ill-trained and unaccountable staff should not be carrying out enforced removals and it is little wonder there are so many reports of improper treatment. The death of Jimmy Mubenga was a tragedy waiting to happen.

“Anyone conducting removals must be properly trained and independently monitored or we will have more deaths and more mistreatment.”

“The Home Secretary should look at best practice from other EU countries which use state law enforcement staff for removals. Numerous reports - from the Government and independent organisations - have raised concerns about the use of private contractors for this work.

“We acknowledge that the UK government does need to remove some people from the country. But there is no reason why this cannot be done safely and with respect for people’s basic rights.”

The Committee also supported Amnesty’s call that there should be independent monitors who are given access to “chartered removal flights”.  Independent monitoring is an essential safeguard to mitigate against abuse on any individual including private escorts and to maintain vital public confidence in the system.

The Committee further endorses Amnesty International’s concern that there are long-standing concerns over the accountability and conduct of private security companies. Amnesty further recommends that the Government should review the experience of other EU countries where the state uses its own law enforcement personnel for enforced returns.

Amnesty has asserted that by using private contractors the UK Border Agency has an “arm’s-length” approach where it cannot adequately oversee or control the enforced removal process.

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