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Review: Detention undercover
Ten police officers have been disciplined as a result of the BBC documentary The secret policeman which exposed racist views and practice by trainee police officers last year. In response to a similar programme last week, 15 members of staff have been suspended from front-line duties by Global Solutions Ltd, after they were captured on camera describing how to beat up detainees and racially abuse them without getting caught.
Two undercover reporters worked for three months as employees of Global Solutions Ltd (GSL), the PFI wing of Group 4. One worked as an officer in Oakington Reception Centre, where asylum-seekers are detained immediately while their applications are processed. The other was an escort, responsible for moving detainees around the country and ensuring they are 'removed' from the UK.
GSL receives millions from its government contracts to detain and remove people under the immigration laws, including asylum-seekers who have been refused and people who have overstayed their visas.
The programme was clear that many officers do their best to treat detainees humanely in difficult conditions. However, Detention Undercover exposed a minority of officers and escorts who racially abuse detainees, assault them and trump up accusations in order to put them in solitary confinement.
One anonymous officer at Oakington said: "You haven't heard this from me but the guys in [the secure unit, which includes detainees on suicide watch], they're a bunch of fucking bullies - they shouldn't be in there... very right wing. They got put in there because they caused problems in Block 30 with various racial allegations."
There was at least as much racism and more violence in the escort services: "There's plenty goes on. We've had... to knock seven kinds of shit out of them.... you take a little bit of frustration out on them, but you be very careful, know what I mean? You can tweak the irons, you can give them a bit of pain... but on certain places, be very careful - when you've got immigration around you, or airline reps."
This documentary was an important expos of the reality of New Labour's immigration policy on the ground. Sadly, it has received little coverage in the press.
GSL say they are "shocked" and "dismayed" and will make a full investigation. Yet it's hard to take them seriously when the "equal opportunities" training for escorts/officers shown on the programme is as inadequate as the training for police officers.
All they were told is that they mustn't be caught using racist language - nothing seems to be done to deal with the attitudes behind the language. As one of the officers who made racist comments said: "Well that's to cover their arse, isn't it."
Dealing with racism and prejudice in immigration staff is bound to be difficult when the Home Secretary states publicly that he views some migrants as a "burden" on society who should be "driven out". It is the Home Office's own policies and language that have encouraged and legitimised these abuses.
New Labour consistently scapegoats asylum seekers for the disastrous destruction of public services caused by their own pro-big business policies, leading to prejudice and resentment amongst sections of the population.
Privatisation - one of New Labour's favourite policies - means that the contracts for immigration escorts and detention centres are cloaked in commercial secrecy and abuses can be blamed on the companies but quietly continued.
The Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture reported a number of cases of unlawful force used during attempted removals (see the socialist issue 380), the Home Office agreed to install CCTV in all vans used to escort detainees to the airport. What they didn't say is that they only plan to do this when the current contracts for escort services run out.
In The Socialist 12 March 2005: