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Cambridge Oakington Concern (CAMOAK) statement

* Raising questions about the use of Oakington Barracks as a detention centre
* Campaigning for safeguards

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The Committee of Cambridge Oakington Concern is appalled by the revelations made in this programme. We had already heard allegations that some Detention Custody Officers (DCOs) were racist and threatening to detainees, but what was revealed by this programme was considerably worse than we were aware of. We welcome the news that the Home Office enquiry is to be chaired by the Prisons’ Ombudsmen, Stephen Shaw. We have every confidence in him.

If this sort of behaviour has been going on at Oakington, what is happening in other immigration detention centres? We think the enquiry should not stop at Oakington.

We recognise that not all staff at Oakington are racist and bullying. We also have reports of courteous and kind behaviour.

The management of Oakington alerted to trouble: just before Christmas 2003 a representative of CamOak was invited by the Manager of Oakington and a member of GSL (the private company that runs Oakington) to meet with them. They were alarmed by revelations of racism at Yarl’s Wood which is under the same management. We reported to them the allegations we had heard of racism and aggressive behaviour at Oakington, and we urged them to ensure that Oakington did not go down the same road of racial abuse and aggression. Training in anti-racism was discussed, and suggestions made for improving the impact of this. Unfortunately it is now apparent that no effective action was taken to deal with the behaviour that was reported.

We understand that a number of people have been removed from frontline duties and that others have resigned. However, management failures must also be recognised.
1. The selection process for DCOs must be reconsidered.
2. Race-awareness training is clearly not working.
3. One shift in particular is known to be racist. Questions must be raised about its leadership.
4. Questions need to be asked about the role of the Contract Monitor.

We believe that matters at Oakington deteriorated in 2003:
1. New legislation came into force depriving many refused asylum seekers of any right of appeal until after they had been removed back to their own countries.
2. Oakington also began to be used for ‘detention overspill’. People who had overstayed their visas, refused asylum seekers and others were brought to Oakington until they could be put on a plane and removed.
3. These people were angry and despairing, had no incentive to cooperate with Oakington, and every incentive to try and escape.
4. At the same time sections of the press were taking every opportunity to vilify asylum seekers and other migrants. Now the two main political parties are vying with one another to put forward harsh measures to prevent people reaching Britain to find refuge. In this atmosphere, some staff behaviour has deteriorated.

Detainees must be made aware of their rights and feel able to complain. However:
1. Those whose asylum applications are being fast-tracked are afraid to complain lest it affect their applications. Hence, in part, the low level of complaint to the Prisons Inspectorate.
2. Complaints are supposed to be made to the Independent Monitoring Board. But they have to go through DCOs, and the film showed the corruption in the present process. Those detainees who do complain are often frustrated.

The film also dealt with the cells in the segregation unit. The Prisons Inspectorate, the Independent Monitoring Board, the Chaplains and Cambridge Oakington Concern have complained about these.
1. They are often overcrowded and unventilated.
2. They should not be used for those on suicide and self-harm watch. They are not safe for this purpose. We pointed out when Oakington was first opened that the light fittings were not flush with the ceiling, and provided a point to which someone might fix a ligature and try to hang themselves. Nothing was done and this is exactly what happened during the visit of the Prisons Inspectorate. We believe that nothing has been done since.
3. Officers who have access to the segregation unit should be particularly carefully selected.

1. The Prisons Inspectorate have complained, as have we and others, about children being held for longer than the seven days which is supposed to be the limit of time families with children may be detained. Complaints about this have fallen on deaf ears.
2. Mothers with young babies should not be detained at all.
3. An effective child protection policy does not yet seem to be in place. We feel the need for clarification of the role of social services and of their statutory duties in these unusual circumstances. Is adequate funding available?

Signed on behalf of the committee:

Claire Meyer Dr M. Louise Pirouet

March 2005


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