October 21, 2010 : G4S guards accused of killing deportee
Three G4S security guards are accused of causing the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who died during his forcible deportation on a British Airways flight to Angola on 12 October. Eye witnesses told the Guardian how the 46-year-old man was being "heavily restrained by security guards and had complained of breathing problems before he collapsed." The three men have since been questioned by police and bailed until December pending further inquires.
Jimmy Mubenga died at around 8pm on Tuesday, 12th October, as he was being deported to Angola in the hands of G4S guards. Passengers who were on the flight have testified that initial accounts of what happened issued by the Home Office and G4S were, at best, misleading and even "completely false."
Mubenga lost consciousness when three G4S guards attempted to restrain him on British Airways flight 77. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. The three guards have been questioned by police 'in connection' with the death but have not been charged. They were bailed to a date in December and the death is currently being treated as "unexplained."
Long history of abuse
This is not the first time that news of the use of excessive force by private security guards during deportation operations have surfaced. In 2008, a report by Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns documented "an alarming number of injuries" sustained by asylum seekers at the hands of private security guards contracted by the Home Office during their detention and forcible deportation. An independent report by Baroness Nuala O'Loan, the former Northern Ireland police ombudsman, found in March that security contractors involved in deportations had "failed to properly manage the use of violent restraint techniques by their staff." More recently, research by the Institute of Race Relations revealed that at least 14 people have died since 1991 during forced deportations from various European countries, including the UK.
G4S itself has been embroiled in some of these tragedies. In April this year, a 40-year-old Kenyan detainee died at Oakington detention centre, near Cambridge, which is run by G4S. Fellow detainees reported that the man had been refused medical attention despite complaining of feeling unwell and asking for medicine. He was reportedly seen "crawling around the floor in pain" before he died, but his repeated pleas for help were ignored by the G4S staff.
Profiting from misery
G4S styles itself as "the world's leading international security solutions group", specialising in the outsourcing of state operations such as prison and detention centre management, the escort and transportation of prisoners and immigration detainees, and patrolling international borders. In addition, the company provides private security services to the oil and gas industry (for example, in Nigeria), private energy utilities, private companies and diplomats (in Afghanistan, for example).
G4S runs four of the UK's 11 immigration detention centres (Brook House, Dungavel, Oakington and Tinsley House), holding more than 1,000 detainees between them. G4S-run prisons are known for their bad conditions and 'settled misery' (see, for example, these Corporate Watch articles: 1 | 2).
The company also runs most of the UK's so-called short-term holding facilities at ports, airports and immigration reporting centres around the country (see here). It is also the UK Border Agency's main contractor for providing detainee 'escort services' (between detention centres and courts and airports) and carries out 'escorted overseas repatriations', or forcible deportations, on behalf of the UKBA.
In 2008, G4S Care & Justice Services took part in a pilot project to provide mobile detention facilities in the UK. The five-week trial involved deploying an adapted vehicle and detainee custody officers normally used in conventional detainee transportation. Mobile detention facilities could be rolled out in the near future on a wider scale at places where migrants and refugees are known to congregate, such service stations. G4S is likely to win the contract.
In the US, G4S Wackenhut has a contract to provide 'guard and transportation' services on behalf of the Customs and Border Protection Agency. The contract covers the entire length of the south-west USMexican border and involves the provision of over 100 secure buses and other vehicles, their crews and over 575 G4S armed security personnel.
Detention and other immigration-related 'services' are one of G4S's biggest 'markets' and continue to generate vast profits for the company. For example, Brook House and Tinsley House detention centres are expected to generate £10 million and £5m a year respectively over five years. Its UK prisoner and detainee electronic monitoring contract, which was last year extended for a further two years, is worth £40m a year. In 2009, G4S had pre-tax profits of £219.2m, from a turnover of 7.01bn, up 7.4% on 2008. The company's UK 'security' portfolio had a £1bn plus annual turnover, up by 16%, and produced pre-tax profits of £97.3m.
Investigations and protests
Detainees in Dover immigration detention centre have issued a statement demanding an official investigation into the death of Jimmy Mubenga. The statement, so far signed by over 25 of the detainees, also demanded that "all those responsible for this brutal crime at the UKBA, G4S and British Airways are held responsible and punished accordingly." A group of MPs and refugee organisations have also called for an independent inquiry into the UK's deportation system, criticising the use of excessive force.
Detainees in other detention centres around the country are said to have been disturbed by the news of Mubenga's death, and many said they fear the same might happen to them when they are "deported in the caring hands of G4S." According to campaigners, detainees in various detention centres started to organise mass protests but these soon died out as many feared "management's retaliation."
One of the Dover detainees, who preferred to keep anonymous, said: "This is not the first time this happens and we know what happens with this kind of 'investigations' promised every time by the Home Office. We want a proper, independent investigation that holds all those responsible for Jimmy's murder to account, not just the three security guards."
Jimmy Mubenga had fled Angola fearing for his life as a result of his political activism. In 2006, he was convicted of actual bodily harm and sentenced to two years in prison following a fight in a pub. After serving his prison sentence, he was transferred to an immigration detention centre and was due to be deported back to his home country.
Angola has been subject to decades-long armed conflicts, repression and human rights abuses fuelled by western powers. British businesses, particularly oil companies, have substantial interests in the country. BP describes Angola as one of its "six new profit centres." According to Oxfam, British arms brokers were actively selling arms to Angola during the Cold War period.
Yet, the UK Border Agency considers the country to be 'safe' and Angolan asylum claims are often readily rejected.