Opinion: Immigration service must do more to protect human dignity

The UK Border Agency’s recent decision to hire G4S and Serco to deliver the housing scheme for asylum seekers is not only a bad one in its own right. It is symptomatic of the deep inadequacy of an organisation that exists purely to deal with people, but which lacks the same standards and people-focused ethos we expect of other organisations responsible for looking after human beings.

Last week we discovered that asylum seekers in the Midlands have had their doors painted red by the company responsible for housing and accommodating them, G4S. G4S did not think this would be a problem. After all, social inclusion, community cohesion, and more basic issues like privacy, dignity and personal space are not really the preserve of large-scale industrial security companies. And yet these things are absolutely essential when providing housing, Ask any good housing association- they will explain the painstaking calculations and assessments of exactly these sorts of issues which have to be made in order to deliver and maintain successful community housing.

To think that G4S can provide a ‘basic but satisfactory’ service on the cheap shows that human dignity and respect remain secondary issues for the UK Border Agency. This surely does not have to, and should not, be the case.

The UK Border Agency has made progress in recent years. It has cleared huge backlogs, ended the detention of children and families and introduced an innovative and forward thinking family returns scheme. Credit where credit is due. But we must not rest until the UKBA is an organisation where respect for human dignity is as important as controlling numbers and enforcing decisions. This ethos must come from the top and should permeate every aspect of the agency’s work, from casework decisions, the quality of call centres and public offices, to the attitude of border staff. Unfortunately, the recent G4S scandal shows that there is still a long way to go before this is achieved.

* James Harper works for a Liberal Democrat MP specialising in Asylum and Immigration casework. The views expressed are his own.

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  • Richard Dean 3rd Oct '12 - 3:31pm

    Any major change of service provider like this seems bound to produce a few problems, because what is regarded as self-evident by the previous provider might not be regarded as so by the new one. Preventative action before the event will not always cover every eventuality.

    So it seems there needs to be a learning process, during which explicit standards can be improved, and also a process of monitoring performance against standards, and a process by which measured corrective action can be implemented. G4S need to learn this lesson. Hopefully they and Serco and any others will be able to do this while continuing to complete their contracted work.

  • How right you are. We need to talk! I am going out very soon for a meeting with some asylum seekers on this very issue. I spoke at conference last week on this. Can you e-mail me on [email protected] and I will send you some information. I’ll post more on here when I get back from my meeting.
    In the meantime have a look at http://www.LD4SOS.org.uk which is our new Lib Dem organisation going to work on such issues.

  • please do get in touch please, Richard.

  • very sorry it was James I needed to make contact – although it was nice to hear from Richard !

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