UK: Ill-trained, dangerous and unaccountable- Amnesty calls for complete overhaul of enforced removals by private security companies
The UK Government must conduct a complete and radical overhaul of the current system of enforced removals from the UK, according to a new briefing and campaign launched today (7 July) by Amnesty International UK.
Private security companies, contracted by the UK Government, have reportedly used dangerous and improper control and restraint techniques. In the 2010 case of Jimmy Mubenga at least, these appear to have resulted in someone’s death. 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.
Other cases featured in the Amnesty briefing include a Moroccan national who claims his arm was broken when he was restrained by his arms and legs and was dropped down the stairs of the airplane; and a refused asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who said he struggled to breathe and feared he was going to die when security staff put a knee on his chest and sat on him, after he resisted his removal at Heathrow.
Sources with direct working experience of enforced removals have told Amnesty about serious failings in the training of private contractors conducting forced removals. Staff are trained in control and restraint techniques that are unsuitable for use on aircraft; there is no mandatory training in the safe use of handcuffs and restraints; and there is no watertight system in place to ensure that those accredited to conduct removals have received the required level of training. The reportedly widespread use of sub-contractors to fill staff shortages also raises further serious concerns about training and accountability.
The new campaign, backed by Jimmy Mubenga’s widow Adrienne Makenda Kambana, urges people to go to www.amnesty.org.uk/removal and take action by writing to Home Secretary Theresa May, urging independent monitoring of all enforced removals and improved training for removals staff.
All UK removals should be monitored by an independent body which accompanies and reports on all stages of the removal process, says Amnesty in the briefing, “Out of Control: The case for a complete overhaul of enforced removals by private security companies”.
Amnesty International concludes that, given long-standing concerns over the accountability and conduct of private security companies, the Government should review the experience of other EU countries, most notably Germany, where the state uses its own law enforcement personnel for enforced returns. The German experience suggests that allegations of harm during removals are dramatically reduced when state law enforcement personnel are used and independent monitoring is allowed.
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.”
Adrienne Makenda Kambana, widow of Jimmy Mubenga, said:
“If someone had been monitoring how Jimmy was being treated on that flight, I’m sure he’d still be alive today. The other passengers said he was crying out for help.
“I hope people will support Amnesty’s campaign. The system must change to stop this happening again. No-one should have to go through what me and my family have suffered, and no-one should be treated like my husband was that night in October.”
Training must be significantly improved and the awarding of contracts should be dependent upon the suitability and robustness of the training, accountability and compliance mechanisms put in place, says Amnesty. The contract to conduct UK forced removals was recently awarded to Reliance Secure Task Management Ltd. It is understood that Reliance underbid the previous contractor, G4S, for provision of these services.
The briefing documents a pattern of reported mistreatment going back many years. Allegations of improper treatment by private contractors have continued despite two critical government reports - one produced by Baroness O’Loan March 2010 and the other by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons in August 2009 - which highlighted deficiencies over the accountability, training and techniques employed by these contractors. Previous reports from Amnesty and other organisations going back to 2005 have raised similar concerns.
In Germany, says the briefing, private security companies are not involved in enforced removals, which are instead carried out by the German Federal Police. An effective monitoring system was introduced in 2001 at Düsseldorf Airport, at Frankfurt Airport in 2006 and Hamburg in 2010. ‘Airport forums’, comprising representatives of governmental and NGOs, appoint the monitors, who must regularly report to the forums. Monitoring increases transparency, accountability and protects both people being removed and police officials, since the presence of neutral monitors safeguards them against unjustified attacks and accusations.