Inspectors condemn immigration detention centre

Prison inspectors have launched a savage attack on Oakington immigration detention centre, saying detainees feel unsafe and victimised.

In a report on the centre published today, the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, said relations between staff and detainees had deteriorated sharply.

Only 60 per cent of detainees said they were treated with respect. In general, staff were distant, reactive and unaware of detainees’ personal circumstances.

In one case, neither staff nor managers realised they had been holding one detainee for nearly two years.

Inspectors said uncertainty over the centre’s future was probably having an impact on staff and management.

“This appeared to have infected managers and staff with a short-term, reactive approach,” Ms Owen said.

“This was a disappointing inspection of an establishment which seemed to have lost direction and purpose.”

Inspectors also noted the use of force had increased and was inadequately monitored.

Half the detainees said that they had felt unsafe. This was partly due to immigration uncertainty, the inspectors admitted, but also because of a lack of information from inexperienced immigration staff and poorly supervised dormitory accommodation.

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council said: “This report makes for depressing and disturbing reading.

“Until a few months ago, the Refugee Council had a presence at Oakington, offering much needed support and advice to detainees, and ensuring those that shouldn’t be there – including children who had been age disputed, torture victims and those with mental health problems, were released as soon as possible.

“We have grave concerns about what is happening to people now that we are not there to provide that independent support.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “This report shows just how difficult life can for be for detainees at immigration removal centres.

“Oakington’s insecure future has created a culture of short-termism that has severely damaged relationships between staff and detainees and led to a disregard of individual circumstances.

“There must be serious concerns about the welfare of detainees when the Refugee Council’s contract to provide advice ends.”