Private companies will clearly keep detainees warm at night

Despite a company such as G4S having a shocking human rights record in Britain and globally, this clearly has little impact on the firm receiving new contracts. After all, failure is rewarded in disaster capitalism. Privatisation will make everything more “efficient”, haven’t you heard?

The Guardian reports on the latest British experiment in vulnerable people’s lives:

A lot of care has been paid to the interior decoration of the new centre designed to hold families facing deportation from this country. Each of the nine apartments is named after a flower – lavender, iris, orchid – and pictures of these flowers are painted on the doors to the flats. The centre has an indoor play area for young children, decorated with animal murals, and a recreation area for teenagers, with a pool table. There’s a computer zone, a mosque and a non-denominational prayer area, as well as family-friendly communal kitchens. Outside there is a mini-adventure playground and extensive gardens.

There are also two boundary fences that make it impossible for residents to leave the premises unsupervised, and the centre is staffed by workers from the security firm G4S, paid by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Guests are brought here by escorts, after being arrested at their homes. Belongings are x-rayed, and adults are taken aside to be searched on arrival. The pretty, white-gabled building will be inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons.

Officials avoid referring to Cedars as a detention centre, describing it instead as a “pre-departure accommodation centre” to hold families whose immigration requests have failed and need to be removed from the country. The children’s charity Barnardo’s (which campaigns for an end to child detention) has been contracted to work with the children who are housed there, and its chief executive, Anne Marie Carrie, says its involvement will ensure that the new regime never recreates the scandals of the old “immigration removal centre” Yarl’s Wood, particularly the notorious, now-closed family unit, where families of failed asylum seekers were held (often at length).

But there is a lot that is confusing about the new site. Is it a detention centre? Does it represent an end to the detention of children, which the government promised in its coalition manifesto last year? Is the presence of Barnardo’s a constructive attempt to ensure that conditions are better, or (as some asylum charities argue) just a useful fig leaf?

Earlier this year, it began to be obvious that far more children were being detained at the ports than the coalition had anticipated when they promised to end child detention. During an unannounced inspection of a holding facility at Heathrow Terminal 4, prison inspectors witnessed a G4S member of staff, wearing latex gloves, telling a five-year-old French boy: “You’re a big boy now so I have to search you.”

All G4S staff working at Cedars are being trained by Barnardo’s in child welfare, but Carrie admits to some unease about cooperating with G4S, which has a mixed record on working with asylum seekers.

“I’m not an idiot. I know that there are concerns about them as an organisation,” she says. “But we’re not there to work for G4S. Their job is to run the facility on behalf of UKBA, they are accountable to UKBA. I’m accountable to the children and families who are in there, and I’m accountable to my wider stakeholders, and to my staff at Barnardo’s.”

Struggling for the best way to describe the place, she says it looks like an “upmarket” holiday resort, perhaps a bit like Center Parcs, before adding: “Let’s not pretend it’s that, but … It looks the best facility it can be. It looks family-centred, child-centred ”¦”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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