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Friday, 12 June 2009

Oakington Immigration Reception Centre: 'It's a living hell'

A HARROWING account of life inside Oakington Immigration Reception Centre has been told to the News by an asylum seeker.

The detainee, who declined to be named, said the people inside it are treated "as animals" and told how staff "use force" on them.

The immigrant said there was limited health care, "very poor food" and security problems at the centre, where immigration cases can take anything from "six months to two years" to tackle.

"Oakington is unsafe," warned the detainee.

"Something needs to be done."

The asylum seeker said there was another escape attempt on Saturday and a fight among 8-10 detainees in the TV room, when no staff were present.

"This happens generally 2-3 times a week," revealed the insider. "There are no staff sometimes to control or monitor detainees, leaving detainees alone to self-harm, commit or attempt to commit suicide.

"I have witnessed one in my block where a detainee tried to kill himself in the toilet before another detainee had to shout for help before he was later revived by medical staff."

The asylum seeker's comments follow a Parliamentary debate introduced by Labour MP Diane Abbott on Monday.

She reminded the Commons how an inquiry into conditions at the centre, conducted after a BBC Panora m a programme in 2005, found a "subculture of racism, casual violence and abuse".

She added: "Visiting the centre recently, I was shocked to find the very same G4 security manager who was in charge of Oakington at the time of the BBC documentary is still in place."

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington went on: "I am also concerned about the increasing use of force at Oakington. The prisons inspector found 53 uses of force since 2007, 34 of which had taken place in the first six months of 2008."

She warned that as it is unsafe to deport some of the individuals from Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, they are detained indefinitely. She said they are not "detained humanely" and the officers there were working in "stressful conditions".

Independent monitors of Oakington recently condemned the living conditions for the asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and ex-foreign national prisoners at the site, which is close to its 408 capacity.

The insider told the News it was as if they were "animals".

"The block room where detainees are housed is always filthy. The toilets are the worst place you want to visit because one is used by 11 people while the bath is used between 22. It is regularly out of action, leaving detainees sometimes fighting over toilet spaces. It's really appalling, nauseating and really unclean.

"There are no activities for detainees to participate in. The general atmosphere is always moody."

Dr Louise Pirouet, from the campaign group Cambridge Oakington Concern, said: "There has been a decline in respect for detainees. The prison inspectorate found people were being called by their numbers, rather than their names.

"There used to be quite friendly relations between staff and detainees, but that has disappeared with some, although not all, staff.

"They cannot close down this place down soon enough."

Phil Woolas, minister for Borders and Immigration, announced on Monday that the centre would close within the next two years. However, he said he was "satisfied that it provides a satisfactory level of service to detainees".

A UK Border Agency spokesman told the News: "We take any concerns about the welfare of our detainees extremely seriously. Our removal centres play a vital role in enforcing immigration rules and we are determined to make sure they are well run, safe and secure.

"We have been praised for the progress we have made. A recent report by the Independent Monitoring Board noted an improvement in the health care and facilities we provide for detainees."


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