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Health concerns at Heathrow IRC, but religious provisions good, report says

13 May 2016


Protest: A woman leads the chanting calling for an end to fast-track deportations and immigration centres, outside Harmondsworth detention centre, part of Heathrow IRC, last year

Protest: A woman leads the chanting calling for an end to fast-track deportations and immigration centres, outside Harmondsworth detention centr...

DETAINEES of the Immigration Removal Centres (IRC) at Heathrow are suffering with mental-health conditions, the physically disabled are generally ill-served, and there is inadequate social-care provision, its Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), has concluded in its first joint report.

The religious needs of detainees, however, are “well catered for”, and religious inclusion is high on the agenda, it says.

There are two adjacent IRC sites close to Heathrow Airport, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, which house 676 and 400 detainees, respectively. The centres’ reports have previously been published separately.

All prisons and IRCs in England and Wales have an IMB, made up of volunteers from the community, who can monitor its records, and speak to any prisoner or detainee.

In the report, published last week, the Heathrow board calls on the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to carry out an independent review of detention cases where a detainee has been held continuously for longer than 12 months.

“2015 has been a challenging year for HIRC,” it states. “There has been good progress on updating some of the physical facilities, particularly on the Harmondsworth site, but staff have been overstretched, and have found it difficult at times to maintain standards in the centres.”

Harmondsworth, thought to be the largest IRC in Europe, is made up of hostel-style units with a television set and access to mobile phones, the report says. The second centre, Colnbrook, was originally built to house “difficult male attendees” in prison-style units, but now also houses a female unit that has a “more relaxed regime”.

Detainees have access to facilities relating to religion, kitchens, shops, gyms and activities; healthcare is provided by Central & North West London NHS Foundation Trust.

“There has been a significant disconnect at times between the main contractor and the healthcare provider that has resulted in a poor level of service to detainees housed in the enhanced care units at both sites, and it took a long time to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion,” the report warns. “The Home Office must bear some of the responsibility for allowing this situation to persist.”

It calls on the Government to review: the time taken to assess medical cases from detainees claiming to be victims of torture, how often detainees are moved between detention facilities at night (for administrative purposes), and how healthcare complaints are handled.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are pleased that the IMB recognises progress made at the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centres since its last report, but are aware that more needs to be done.

“We also welcome the board’s positive comments on religious facilities at the centres, and on the diversity and visibility of the various religious leads. This is an endorsement of the work done to cater for the needs of different faith groups.”

The religious needs of the significant number of practising Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists housed at HIRC, are being met with “dedicated staff” and religious facilities, the report says.

“The Christian Chapel at Colnbrook is a bright and welcoming space with a semi-circular seating area for worship and quiet prayer. A number of services are conducted each week in both the Anglican and Catholic traditions. Access to these services has been improved during the year due to the freer movement within the centre.”

The report goes on to detail the general condition of the centres, and points to areas of concern, including access to legal advice, safer custody, mental health, staffing levels, missed hospital appointments, length of detention, and the power to complain.

A previous report, published in March, on an unannounced inspection of Harmondsworth by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, last year, also found that there were “substantial concerns” relating to substandard facilities and the care of vulnerable adults, despite improvements made since the last inspection.

“In our survey, 80 per cent of men said that they had had problems on arrival and nearly half said they had felt depressed or suicidal,” Mr Clarke wrote.

The chaplaincy, however, was again seen to provide “valued support” for the centre’s 559 religious detainees, 150 of whom are Christian.

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