By Owen Bowcott
The scale of Britain's largely privatised deportation industry has mushroomed as the Home Office responds to political pressure for the faster removal of failed asylum-seekers and people overstaying their visas.
There are 11 immigration removal centres across the country with space for around 3,000 detainees. Most are operated by private security companies such as G4S, GEO Ltd or Serco; several are managed by the Prison Service.
G4S – formerly known as Group 4 Securicor – runs Dungavel in Scotland, Oakington near Cambridge, Brook House and Tinsley House, both on the perimeter of Gatwick Airport, on behalf of the UK Border Agency. Oakington is due to close next month.
The company, which claims to be the second largest private employer in the world with 595,000 staff, is also the main contractor providing services to escort those removed from the UK on repatriation flights overseas.
Additionally, G4S runs the UK Border Agency's Transport PLUS service, which shuttles asylum-seekers to and from their accommodation and key sites in the UK.
Failed asylum-seekers and deported visa overstayers are either put on scheduled commercial flights or gathered up in periodic round-ups for mass deportations on specially chartered flights. They are always accompanied by private security guards.
There are usually at least twice as many security guards as deportees. The Home Office insists that use of force is a "matter of last resort" if someone becomes disruptive or refuses to comply, or to prevent deportees from harming themselves. Handcuffs and, in exceptional cases, leg restraints can be used.
In 2008, the UKBA recorded that more than 66,000 people were either removed from the UK or returned voluntarily to their native countries.
Increasingly, deportation charter flights have been organised on a collaborative basis between groups of European countries who collect batches of failed asylum-seekers due to be returned to destinations such as Iraq or west Africa. On occasions the EU border agency Frontex co-ordinates the hiring of planes.
In 2008-9, the cost to the government of repatriation charter flights rose to £8,227,553.38, according to a written answer provided by then immigration minister Phil Woolas in January this year. Between January and early December 2009 there were 64 charter flights to countries as diverse as Albania, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Jamaica and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This year Cecilia Malmström, the Swedish EU commissioner for home affairs, called for all deportation flights to carry human rights monitors to check on the safety of forcibly removed failed asylum seekers.
"Safeguards [should be] put in place to make sure that … return operations are carried out in full respect of fundamental rights," she said. "For example, an independent monitor shall be present during such operations and report … on compliance with EU law."
At the time a UKBA spokesman said that Britain has "on occasion" allowed representatives of the Independent Monitoring Board on deportation flights as observers. "This is a matter we will keep under review," he added.
A further significant cost has been the compensation paid to migrants who were traumatised after being locked up in detention centres across the UK. Home Office officials accept that the figure has run to millions of pounds over the past three years.
In one case in August, a gay asylum seeker from Uganda was awarded £100,000 after the Home Office admitted breaking the law by deporting him and putting his life in danger. The man said he had been beaten with sticks, burned and hung upside down after being imprisoned in Uganda.
According to Hansard, between May 2005 and November 2006 G4S was paid more than £9m for overseas escort services. A G4S spokesman said: "We currently hold [a] contract for overseas escorting. We do book flights for scheduled and charter [removals] but do so via the Home Office's contracted supplier."
By Alan Travis
Positional asphyxia, which occurs when someone's physical position prevents them breathing, has led to a small but significant number of sudden deaths under restraint by police or prison officers.
The prison service warns staff of a common misconception that if an individual can talk they can breathe. "An individual dying from positional asphyxia may well be able to speak or shout prior to collapse," states the HM prison service order.
The Metropolitan police which overhauled its restraint guidelines after the unlawful death by positional asphyxia of Roger Sylvester (above) in 1999, says restraining a person in a position that compromises their airways can lead to asphyxiation. They add that forcing the head down towards the knees is particularly dangerous: "Restraint where the subject is seated requires caution, since the angle between the chest wall and lower limbs is already decreased."