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Harmondsworth Immigration Centre Criticized as Worst Ever by Prisons Watchdog

The conditions at Harmondsworth immigration removal center near Heathrow Airport have been sharply criticized by the prison watchdog, with inspectors describing them as the worst they have ever seen. The center, Europe’s largest of its kind with 658 beds, came under scrutiny in a damning 68-page report by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP).

Chief Inspector Charlie Taylor highlighted numerous issues in the report, including dilapidated living areas where detainees were often so cold they had to wear coats indoors. Fire safety was compromised, with some fire doors not functioning properly due to non-fire retardant surrounds.

Inspectors noted widespread cannabis use among detainees and identified neglected ligature points that had been used in multiple suicide attempts over several years.

Harmondsworth Immigration Centre Criticized as Worst Ever by Prisons Watchdog

Harmondsworth Immigration Centre Criticized as Worst Ever by Prisons Watchdog

Comparing conditions to their last inspection in 2017, inspectors found significant deterioration in welfare support and a concerning trend of staff remaining isolated in offices rather than engaging with detainees. Shockingly, nearly a quarter of detainees reported easy access to drugs, significantly higher than in other centers, and many reported developing drug problems while detained.

The report highlighted a high incidence of suicidal feelings among detainees, with almost half expressing such thoughts during their stay. There was even a suicide attempt during the inspection period, underscoring the immediate risks faced by detainees. Emma Ginn from Medical Justice labeled the situation a “national emergency,” criticizing the Home Office’s failure to address long-standing issues like the removal of ligature points.

Serious incidents included the detention of individuals unfit for confinement, with one man dying in a hotel shortly after release following severe mistreatment. The report also noted instances of excessive force and physical assaults by staff, leading to disciplinary actions including dismissals for assault, bullying, and racism.

In response, a Home Office spokesperson emphasized their commitment to the welfare and safety of detainees, noting increased staffing levels and dedicated welfare support at Harmondsworth since the inspection. However, the report’s findings paint a stark picture of systemic failures and ongoing decline at the center, raising broader questions about the effectiveness and humanity of immigration detention practices in the UK.

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