Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Investigation

Private firms put price tag on migrant suicides

  • 3,142 people were in detention in the UK as of June 2013 - the highest figure since 2008 (Photo: Casciani)

Private security companies operating UK-based immigrant removal centres (IRC) use formulas to calculate the profit loss incurred by detainees who commit suicide under their watch.

A handful of immigrants, set for deportation, have managed to kill themselves at the facilities over the years. The UK Border Agency, has in some other cases, refused to disclose the cause of death.

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Attempted suicides have reached an historic as has the number of detainees on suicide watch.

There were 96 incidents of attempted self-harm needing medical treatment between April to June, a 24 percent increase compared to the first three months of the year. Another 750 detainees are deemed to be at risk of self-harm, a 42.5 percent increase over the same period, according to statistics provided by the UK Border Agency.

The profit formula is based on a performance point system that attributes numerical figures to a list of possible infractions based on a self-auditing process.

The points are tallied every month - run through a separate formula - attributed a monetary value, and then deducted from the operational fees paid out by the UK government.

Private security company Serco Ltd., which operates Colnbrook IRC at Heathrow airport, signed a 120-month contract with the UK Immigration Service in 2003.

Some 40,000 detainees have passed through the centre, which can house up to 440 men and woman in separate facilities.

Its inventory list, appended to the contract, includes everything from balaclavas, riot boots, police batons, sledgehammers, to a "wall mounted insect killer with shatter proof tubes."

If a Serco guard forgets to lock a door at Colnbrook, then the company is fined 50 points. If a detainee is caught climbing onto the roof, it is fined 10 points.

Fifty points are given if a guard fails to report an incident of torture to the manager.

An incident resulting in self-harm is 20 points.

Suicide is 300 points.

The sum is then entered into a formula to determine how much they get paid, although the monetary value of the points is redacted in the contract.

A Serco spokesperson said he was unable to provide the value because the data belongs to the UK Home office.

“You would therefore have to approach them and ask them for the information, rather than us,” he said in an email.

But the UK Home Office refused to disclose the information. It says the data is "commercially sensitive."

“Private contractors must meet stringent requirements and be able to demonstrate they can provide security and value for money for the taxpayer,” said a Home Office spokesperson in an emailed statement.

He added: “We want our immigration staff to be out on the front line, not acting as security guards or running immigration services.”

Serco, for its part, is under investigation after a 52-year old Pakistani man died within a few hours following his release from Colnbrook in late March.

He was found dead traveling alone on a train towards Manchester.

Medical screening performance points are only attributed within the first 24-hours of admission.

At Colnbrook, they are worth 20 points.

The UK Border Agency has refused to disclose why a 35-year old American was found dead at Colnbrook in July 2011. A Pakistan national also died in Colnbrook in July 2011 but the cause of death has not been made public.

Serco also runs the Yarls Wood IRC which houses women and children.

Serco’s Colnbrook contract is currently up for renewal. The tender, issued in April, says it is worth around €7 million for each year until 2018.

Manuel Bravo, an Angolan national living in Leeds was taken by immigration officials with his 13-year old son in the early morning hours of 14 September 2005.

They were sent to Yarls Wood where the next day Manuel hanged himself in a stairwell, reportedly to ensure his son would remain in the UK.

The performance point system in more recent contracts is scaled up when compared to Serco’s Colnbrook older 2003 contract.

Whereas self-inflicted injuries costs 400 points per incident, points attributed to a suicide are blocked out in the latest contracts unlike at Colnbrook. A suicide at Colnbrook is 15 times more expensive than a self-inflicted injury.

Using the same scale, a detainee who commits suicide at Harmondsworth, the EU’s largest immigration facility near Heathrow airport, may cost the contractor 6,000 points.

Harmondsworth was contracted out to the Geo Group for 98 months in January 2009. In April alone, some 24 detainees required medical treatment due to self-harm, more than any other IRC except for Brook House, which registered 26. Brook House is run by G4S, the world’s largest private security company.

But it was at Harmondsworth where 84-year old Alois Dvorzac from Canada died in February after becoming ill.

He was reportedly “extremely distressed” before being rushed to a hospital. He died later that day after suffering a suspected heart attack.

The facility registered its latest suicide in 2006, when a 26-year old from Eritrea was found hanged in the showers.

G4S, which was under investigation after three guards suffocated a 46-year old Angolan man to death in 2010, operate Brook House and Tinsely House IRCs.

Both IRCs are up for tender for a total of around €14 million each year.

G4S also refused to provide a monetary value on the point system. They say it is commercially sensitive and that requests should be directed to the UK Home Office.

For its part, the European Commission says rules regarding the operation of detention centres by private security companies is a matter for member states.

The EU asylum laws only contain rules on the grounds for detention of asylum seekers, guarantees for detained applicants and conditions of detention.

The commission says these rules must be applied in all cases, regardless of the private or public nature of the body operating the centre where asylum seekers are detained.

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