Detainees at the Campsfield House immigration prison in Oxfordshire are being “exploited for cheap labour” due to staff cuts, the Oxford and District Trades Union Council has revealed. The rejected asylum seekers, who are locked up for lengthy periods pending their deportation, are being paid £5 for six-hour shifts of cleaning and kitchen work.
A statement by the Oxford and District TUC said: “We maintain our position that Campsfield is a shameful operation and should be closed. As long as it is open, jobs should be properly paid and be done by trained staff. For detainees there should be adequate recreational, educational and other provision… Detainees should receive an adequate financial allowance and not be obliged to act as slave labour for a multinational that makes big profits out of an operation that causes detainees enormous stress, uncertainty, general misery and often mental illness.”
Tracy Ellicott from the Campaign to Close Campsfield told Corporate Watch that detainees are not forced by GEO, the company that runs the prison, to work as such. They are, however, “forced in the sense that they are locked up for 24 hours a day, uncertain of their future and with no money to purchase any essentials they may need.” She added detainees can apply to do certain ‘jobs’ in the centre, such as cleaning, kitchen work and in the library. But none of those she has been visiting was prepared to speak out about this as they are “too scared of retaliation.”
The shifts are 6 hours long and detainees are paid £5 per shift, or 83p an hour. A GEO guard has reportedly said that, according to Home Office rules, they could only pay detainees a maximum of £24 a week. Radio Oxford quoted a statement from the Home Office two weeks ago to the effect that this was all above board and had been agreed with the Home Secretary. A Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) spokesperson said: “All detained persons are provided with an opportunity and encouraged to participate in activities to meet their recreational and intellectual needs. Individuals are entitled to undertake paid activities at rates approved by the Secretary of State.” As usual, GEO declined to comment.
Since taking over the running of Campsfield in June 2006, Global Expertise in Outsourcing (GEO) has cut back on both staffing levels and educational, recreational and other provisions at the centre. Over the past year, GEO has sacked education workers, nursing staff have departed, staff turnover has increased, the welfare officer has left and in September, the chaplain was suspended. GEO’s main business is immigration detention centres and mental health centres throughout the world, especially in USA, UK, South Africa and Australia. It also runs a part of Guantánamo Bay base in Cuba.
Private companies like GEO that run immigration detention centres make huge profits. Seven of the UK’s ten detention centres are run by private companies. The average cost for detaining someone in 2007/08 was £119 per day.
“It is unbelievable that people who have done nothing wrong are not only locked up in prison like criminals, but are also being treated like slaves,” Ms Ellicott said. “GEO is obviously saving money by using their ‘captives’ to perform menial tasks for slave wages.” She added, “of course, they could save a lot more if these centres were closed altogether!”.
The Home Office admitted migrants imprisoned in detention centres are “exempt from the minimum wage” but claimed they are “not forced to work.” A BIA spokesperson insisted: “This is voluntary and we are constantly looking for new opportunities to meet demand for this work.”
However, according to the immigration law, all asylum seekers are prohibited from work and live on state support, which is fixed at 70% of what is deemed to be the bare minimum to live on. The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 states that “it is contrary to this section to employ an adult subject to immigration control if… he has not been granted leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom.” The majority of those held in immigration detention centres are rejected asylum seekers (have not been granted leave to enter or remain in the UK) who are waiting to be deported back home.