Still no safety for migrants during deportation

Today, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that three G4S custody officers will face manslaughter charges over the death of Jimmy Mubenga, the Angolan refugee who was unlawfully killed after being restrained on a plane at Heathrow airport in October 2010. At the time, this tragic and utterly avoidable death was rightly heralded as a wake-up call; fundamental reform was promised and G4S were duly stripped of their contract to handle deportations from the UK. And yet, whilst Mr. Mubenga’s family, the prosecuting legal team and human rights defenders across the world are all understandably celebrating today’s decision, the release of a new report by the UK National Prevention Mechanism unit only a few days earlier casts serious doubt as to how much has really changed.

Authors of the report expressed explicit concern that there are still “no recognised safe procedures for the use of restraint in the confined spaces of an aircraft” and that the time taken between the detainee being discharged from immigration removal centre and boarding their aircraft was found to be “excessive”. It added that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons were “also concerned that not enough was being done to reduce stress for detainees and that there was disproportionate use of force.”  Authors went on to note that “searching and handcuffing procedures were a matter of routine rather than related to risk” before identifying 19 cases where people were subject to “de facto detention” without proper legal authority – 16 of which occurred in a hospital or care home. Ten of them had either dementia or learning difficulties.

In this regard, the report alludes to a regrettable consistency on the part of the Home Office and those private companies it contracts. Since Mr Mubenga’s death (and any of the other detention-related deaths since this tragedy) the tactics used to restrain deportees seem to still mirror those otherwise designed to restrain violent criminals. Such extreme techniques are not only potentially devastating for vulnerable individuals in detention, many of whom have existing mental health issues and are severely distressed. They also serve to criminalise irregular migrants in general. Alongside the Home Office’s recent ‘Go Home’ campaign and the live-tweeting of the arrest of suspected irregular migrants, such measures only help to create a climate in which the abuses outlined in the report can take place.

That is also why today’s decision to hold GS4 staff accountable is so important.   Hopefully it will be the red flag that Mr Mubenga’s death seemingly was not.