G4S: Immigration

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In 1993, shortly after winning the contract for Wolds prison, Group 4 also won a contract to run Campsfield House detention centre in Oxfordshire, the first in a series of privately run immigration detention centres.[1] Both Group 4 and Securicor – which years later merged to form G4S – set up subsidiaries specialising in immigration detention in response to the Thatcher government's decision to contract out some provision of detention services.[2] Securicor had also been contracted since 1970 to run two small immigration detention facilities at Heathrow and Manchester airports. [ibid.] Since then, the number of detention places provided by private security companies has sharply increased, along with a corresponding increase in the use of detention for migrants and asylum seekers. G4S is one of a few multinational security companies that dominate what it describes as “asylum markets”.[3]

As of April 2012, G4S managed two immigration detention centres in the UK: Tinsley House and Brook House, both located within the grounds of Gatwick airport.[4] In addition to these, G4S also runs a new detention centre for families near Crawley, Sussex, called Cedars.[5] The latter has attracted a lot of controversy and protest, particularly against the involvement of the UK's biggest children charity, Barnardo's, which campaigners argue is used to legitimise the continued use of detention for children.[6]

Until it lost the contract to Reliance in May 2011, G4S was also the main provider of detainee escort services under a multi-million-pound contract with the UK Border Agency.[7] G4S also provides electronic monitoring services on behalf of the UKBA through tagging and voice verification technologies.[8]

In February 2012, G4S was one three multinational security companies, alongside Serco and Reliance, that took over all provision of asylum accommodation in the UK for the next five years.[9] G4S selected United Property Management (UPM) as its 'primary housing partner' in England, and the charity Migrant Helpline as its 'strategic partner' from the voluntary sector.[10] However, in June 2012, G4S dropped UPM “owing to contractual issues.”[11] The new 'partners' replacing UPM included Target Housing, Mantle Estates, Live Management Group and Cascade, most of which have no experience of providing housing for asylum seekers. As late as September 2012, 1,200 asylum seekers previously housed by local councils were being placed in sub-standard houses or left in limbo because G4S and its subcontractors were, according to media reports, unable to find enough private landlords.[12]

A history of violence

G4S has been repeatedly accused of providing poor services in its prisons and immigration detention centres.[13] For example, the lack of investment in staff and efficient procedures has often led to detainees' missing important medical and court appointments.[14] In June 2011, it was revealed that a record 773 complaints were lodged in 2010 against G4S by detainees, including 48 claims of assault. More than half related to Brook House detention centre, near Gatwick airport. Three complaints of assault and two of racism were upheld.[15]

In 2010, the charity Medical Justice’s Outsourcing Abuse report documented 300 cases of alleged abuse, with the highest rate of abuse belonging to G4S.[16] All these incidents involved excessive force, with the most frequent being injuries as a result of restraints used and injuries to face. Another frequent outcome was PTSD. Some of these attacks involved families, and some resulted in injuries to children.

Other frequent reports concerned the use of racist language by detention security guards, such as “black bitch” and “black monkey, go back to your own country”. Moreover, there was evidence that complaints procedures for reporting assaults were complex and not independent, evidence of abuse often covered up, with police not seeming to take reports seriously.[17]

Even torture victims, who, according to the UKBA rules themselves, should not be detained in the first place, have reported abuse and mistreatment by G4S guards.[18] This has sometimes led to exacerbating their mental and psychological conditions or creating fresh trauma.[19]

In October 2010, Jimmy Mubenga, a 46-year-old Angolan refugee, collapsed and died after three G4S guards used force to 'restrain' him during his forcible deportation, leading to his suffocation and subsequent death.[20] Two eye witnesses contacted the Guardian after reading about Mubenga's death and testified that the Home Office and G4S' accounts of what happened on board the British Airway flight were false and that excessive force was used.[21] Three G4S guards were arrested and later released on bail in connection with the death.

In July 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that the three G4S guards will not face manslaughter charges due to “conflicting witness accounts” and concluded that the death “may have been caused by a combination of factors such as adrenalin, muscle exhaustion or isometric exercise.”[22] Former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham condemned the decision as "perverse" and called for an inquest.[23] Mubenga's wife, Makenda Adrienne Kambana, said the family was “distraught” and “can't understand why the officers and G4S are not answerable to the law as we or any other member of the public would be.”

Only a few days before the death of Mubenga, the UK Border Agency was investigating allegations of mistreatment by G4S guards of a man being forcibly deported to Colombia.[24] José Gutiérrez, 37, needed hospital attention and was removed from the plane before take-off. In April 2010, a Kenyan man also died in G4S detention centre. He was reported to have been refused medical help and had been crawling on the floor in pain crying out for help before he died.[25]

According to a recent briefing by the charity Inquest, G4S management had been warned by the Home Office in 2006 over using dangerous restraint techniques, of the type that resulted in Jimmy Mubenga's death. Concerns had also been raised by the company's own staff. Indeed, Mubenga was not the first death following 'restraint' by G4S officers: in 2004 a 15-year-old boy, Gareth Myatt, died in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, which was run by GSL (now part of G4S), following his restraint by custody officers.[26]

In the weeks that followed the death of Jimmy Mubenga, G4S denied that its officers used dangerous restraint techniques. However, four G4S employees secretly submitted a testimony to the Home Affairs Select Committee detailing “how some G4S guards developed a dangerous technique for restraining deportees by bending them in aircraft seats”.[27] According to the whistleblowers, G4S managers were repeatedly alerted that ”disruptive deportees” were being "forced into submission" with their heads placed between their legs. The technique, known among G4S guards as 'carpet karaoke', is strictly prohibited because it could result in a form of suffocation known as positional asphyxia, skull fractures and blindness.[28] The parliamentary report found evidence of “inappropriate use of physical restraint, and the possible use of unauthorised and potentially dangerous restraint techniques”.[29]

In late February, G4S lost a bid to renew its detainee escort services with the UKBA to Reliance.[30] G4S claimed the failure to renew its contract was related to the price of its bid "and not to recent events", meaning the death of Mubenga, but that it was "extremely disappointed".[31]

In January 2008, an aboriginal elder from Western Australia was “cooked to death” while being transported in a GSL van with no air conditioning or water.[32] Global Solution Ltd (GSL) was acquired by G4S in May 2008, and all GSL businesses were rebranded as G4S within 12 months. In August 2011, G4S was fined $285,000 after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the health and safety of Mr Ward.[33]
[1] Molenaar, B. and Neufeld, R., 'The Use of Privatised Detention Centres for Asylum Seekers in Australia and the UK' in Coyle, Campbell and Neufeld (eds.) Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatisation and Human Rights, London: Zed Books, 2002. p.132.
[2] Bacon, Christine, The Evolution of Immigration Detention in the UK: The Involvement of Private Prison Companies, Refugee Studies Centre Working Paper No. 27, September 2005.
[3] Grayson, John, 'G4S turns a profit in "asylum markets": who's speaking out and whose lips are sealed?', Open Democracy, 28 February 2012, www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-grayson/g4s-turns-profit-in-%E2%80%9Casylum-markets%E2%80%9D-whos-speaking-out-and-whose-lips-are-se.
[4] www.g4s.uk.com/en-gb/What%20we%20do/Services/Care%20and%20justice%20services/Immigration%20services/Accommodation%20services/
[5] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3881
[6] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4021
[7] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3831
[8] www.g4s.uk.com/en-gb/What%20we%20do/Services/Care%20and%20justice%20services/Electronic%20monitoring/
[9] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4159
[10] www.g4s.uk.com/en-gb/What%20we%20do/Services/Care%20and%20justice%20services/COMPASS/
[11] http://corporatewatch.org/?lid=4384
[12] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4494. See also www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/homes-for-asylumseekers-present-new-crisis-for-g4s-8079557.html and www.insidehousing.co.uk/care/g4s-leaves-refugees-in-limbo/6523370.article.
[13] See, for example, www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3471.
[14] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3596
[15] www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13802163
[16] www.medicaljustice.org.uk/images/stories/reports/outsourcing%20abuse.pdf
[17] Independent Monitoring Board at Yarl's Wood IRC, Annual Report 2009. www.imb.gov.uk/reports/Yarls_Wood_2009.pdf. p.18.
[18] See, for example, www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/07/481783.html.
[19] www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/frank-arnold/routine-neglect-by-uk-government-contracted-doctors-brings-torture-victims-f
[20] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3739
[21] www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/14/security-guards-accused-jimmy-mubenga-death
[22] www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/17/jimmy-mubenga-guards-no-charges
[23] www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/20/jimmy-mubenga-case-charges-perverse?INTCMP=SRCH
[24] www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/21/g4s-jose-gutierrez-deportee-alleged-mistreatment
[25] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3739
[26] www.youth-rights-uk.org/briefings/gareth_myatt.pdf
[27] www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/feb/08/g4s-deportees-lethal-risk-warning-mubenga
[28] www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19562
[29] www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/news/120126/
[30] www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3831
[31] www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/29/g4s-security-loses-deportee-contract
[32] www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/clare-sambrook/duty-of-care-beyond-case-of-mr-ward-cooked-to-death-by-gigantic-outsourcer
[33] www.news.com.au/security-contractor-g4s-fined-285000-over-van-death-of-aboriginal-elder/story-e6frg13u-1226113952431