Liberal Democrats criticise Home Office over deportation flight report which said people were treated like commodities.

UK Border Agency enforcement teamA report in Sunday’s Observer highlighted concerns raised by the Inspector of Prisons over the treatment of people on a deportation flight to Afghanistan.

The Inspector’s full report can be read here and it makes sobering reading for anyone who cares about treating vulnerable people with respect:

Despite impressive care and concern shown by individual escort staff, detainees were not treated with enough decency in the removal process. Generally efficient procedures did not amount to respect for detainees who, it seemed to us, were seen as commodities to be delivered rather than as vulnerable individuals deserving of individual attention. Most staff behaved appropriately but others were unprofessional and inappropriate. For example, some staff engaged in juvenile behaviour and swore in the hearing of detainees, seemingly oblivious to the effect this might have. It was also unacceptable that detainees who were already undergoing a stressful situation were not told of an initial three-hour flight delay that was known days before, nor given any information during a further 3.5 hour delay on the plane. No interpreting services were provided, despite obvious need. This created avoidable anxiety for everyone concerned.

Specific concerns were that detainees were routinely not allowed to use the toilet in private. The door was kept open and they were kept handcuffed. Also, the food given to the detainees was of poorer quality than that given to the staff.  Members of staff also addressed them on occasion by their surname because they hadn’t checked which name to use.

Being removed is traumatic enough. The process can’t involve people being subjected to such unacceptable behaviour. If any public servant swore in my hearing while they were doing their jobs, I would not be happy. It’s completely out of order. To treat people like things is never acceptable.

I know enough about Norman Baker to suspect that he is trying to work behind the scenes to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen. Having a tammy about it in public probably won’t help his cause, but we do need to see improvements.

However, it’s been good to see two Liberal Democrats speak out against this sort of unprofessional behaviour.

Sarah Teather asked what on earth it would take for those responsible to sort out the problems in the Home Office culture which enabled such poor treatment.

This report highlights the depressing reality that lessons have still not been learnt from the tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga. It contains a litany of failings that resulted in human beings not being shown the respect they deserve and instead being treated as commodities.

It is deeply concerning that yet another review has found the Home Office wanting in this area. All individuals, no matter what their immigration status, must be treated with humanity and dignity – something the Government is currently manifestly failing to ensure.

Just what will it take for ministers to stand-up and take responsibility for the culture of those they directly and indirectly employ to do their work?

In today’s Guardian, Suzanne Fletcher, Chair of Liberal Democrat Seekers of Sanctuary has a letter calling for the escort services to be brought back in house to ensure better accountability:

It is shocking to read your report on how those being deported from the UK are being treated by private contractors. The recommendations of the National Independent Commission on Enforced Returns, by Citizens UK, including the use of pain-free restraint, independent oversight of enforced removals and a more robust system for licensing of the staff involved, should be implemented quickly. These contracts should be returned to the public sector to allow for great accountability. These operations are being done in our name and must be done by treating people with respect and dignity.

While I absolutely agree with Suzanne on the outcomes she wants to see, I’m not sure that having the employees directly employed by the Home Office will make much difference without the sort of cultural change Sarah was talking about. I think that we are all aware of instances where people who are directly employed by the Government whether in the Department of Work and Pensions or NHS have failed in their responsibility to treat people with appropriate courtesy, respect and dignity. Nobody I know who has been unemployed has felt that the DWP, for example, treated them appropriately. It’s common to hear from people that they are made to feel like criminals for claiming benefit.

It’s high time we looked at how people actually experience public services and where they fall short, where procedures aren’t properly followed, where they are treated discourteously, then things have to improve.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Richard Dean 6th Jun '14 - 4:49pm

    All people should be treated with respect, but in what sense is there evidence that these are “vulnerable” people?

  • Technical Ephemera 7th Jun '14 - 4:55pm

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious. The Liberal Democrats are responsible for the Home Office. Take responsibility and fix it rather than writing about it.

  • Passing through 8th Jun '14 - 5:25pm

    @Caron “I know enough about Norman Baker to suspect that he is trying to work behind the scenes to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen. Having a tammy about it in public probably won’t help his cause, but we do need to see improvements.”


    OTOH perhaps he isn’t and we have no way saying which interpretation is true.

    I think this highlights the major challenge about selling the benefits of the LDs being within the Coalition; it is hard to persuade people that behind the scenes we all hope and suspect the LDs are reining in their Coalition partners when all we have to go on is the actual, worrying outcomes we see and are greeted by either a wall of silence or worse still on occasion, the full-throated public support of the policy from prominent LDs.

    A message of “Trust in us” is always going to be a hard-sell especially when one of the biggest issues the party has with the electorate is that they consider the LDs, especially post-tuition fees pledge, as completely untrustworthy.

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