Independent inspectors have strongly criticized the conditions under which detainees are held at Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre (HIRC).
The latest report by inspectors from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) shines a spotlight on the often miserable conditions for some 1,000 detainees being held each month under immigration powers at the HIRC.
IMB welcomes the fact that work has, at last, been completed on rebuilding and refurbishing the holding rooms at Terminals 3 and 4.
However, it repeats its recommendation from previous years that there is a need for a residential holding facility at the airport.
Almost 20,000 people, including 1,300 children, were detained at Heathrow in 2016.
People arriving at the airport claiming political asylum are especially likely to be detained for many hours, including overnight, in accommodation that is far from satisfactory, the inspectors say.
They also continue to notice cases of detainees, including families, being moved to Immigration Removal Centres for the night to allow them to sleep, only to be brought back to the airport so quickly that adequate rest will have been impossible.
IMB Chair, John Hutchings, says: “Overall we have found airport staff to be caring and sympathetic to detainees, including children and other vulnerable people, but as people are often held for long periods of time, suitable facilities for people to rest and sleep are urgently needed. Holding rooms are unsuitable for detaining disabled people and children, other than for the briefest period. Detainees are not allowed access to any drugs and medicines they have in their possession, even though this may put their health and well-being at risk.”
The inspection team found the procedure for identifying claimed victims of torture, (known as ‘Rule 35’) is under considerable strain. Average wait times throughout the year have been around two weeks, although maximum wait times have exceeded a month on occasions, which is unacceptable.
The inspectors noted that removal of detainees from the UK, whether escorted or unescorted, is generally undertaken in a satisfactory manner with any use of force proportionate to the case. Their observation of a family removal showed that it was carried out with a great deal of sensitivity to the needs of the children concerned.