Just shy of 100% of all serious misconduct complaints lodged against Home Office staff work in the immigration department, it has emerged.
A Freedom of Information request conducted by the Guardian discovered 96.4% of serious allegations, ranging from physical assault, sexual assault, racism, theft, fraud or harassment, related to borders and immigration staff members. The remaining complaints were held against police forces and counter-terrorism units.
In the event of grave allegations being pursued, the Home Office’s professional standards unit (PSU) step in to assess the claims. General complaints relating to minor matters are passed on to a different department, separate from the PSU.
In just a three-year period, 626 complaints were investigated by the PSU. 210 were able to substantially prove the abuse they received. Investigations of this nature can be held against individuals or even entire teams in a department.
The news comes as horror stories riddled with violence and abuse emerge out of UK detention centres at an accelerating rate. Suicides and severe mental distress is common among persons being kept in these administrative centres, which is then exacerbated by the ill-treatment they face from staff.
In 2017, a BBC Panorama showed staff mocking, abusing and physically assaulting detainees at Brook House detention centre. One person was even throttled by a member of G4S staff.
The documentary caused a chain reaction of cases being brought to light which uncovered years of systematic abuse. Subsequently, 15 of 21 staff members either resigned or were fired.
Infamous Yarl’s Wood removal centre also faced mounting criticism over how its staff treats detainees. Border guards have been accused of touching women inappropriately, forcing women to perform oral sex, raping women, entering vulnerable women’s rooms at night and have even offered to enhance women’s immigration claims in exchange for sexual favours. One woman fell pregnant by an officer in 2010. Many women held in these centres are already survivors of physical and sexual abuse, such as trafficking, domestic abuse, forced prostitution, forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) to name just a few.
Former Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, said that there had been 25 allegations of sexual assault against staff lodged by detainees between 2014-15 and 2017-18. Yet critics suspect there have been many more cases dating back years before 2014 but either the women are too afraid to come forward or have been deported.
Women for Refugee Women have worked tirelessly to campaign for better conditions for undocumented, refugee and migrant women. In 2015, they put an end to male guards monitoring women while on suicide watch. In 2016, their campaign that involved 99 women to represent the 99 pregnant women being detained in Yarl’s Wood saw the Government impose a 72-hour time limit of the detention of pregnant women.
The latest news suggests there is a deep underlying problem within the UK immigration system. This corroborates with a recent survey conducted by UK Visas and Immigration that found discrimination levels within Home Office staff are rocketing. One in five workers claimed to be a victim or witness to discrimination at work. Border Force and Immigration Enforcement also ranked in the top place for discrimination out of all 89 government agencies and departments and bagged the worst score for ‘respecting individual differences’.
Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, said the conduct displayed by the Home Office’s immigration department was “not fit for purpose”. She continued:
“These figures show just how entrenched ‘hostile environment’ practices are in the Tory Home Office. The Windrush scandal has taught them nothing as they continue to rack up internal investigations with no real consequence and no substantial change. This culture is destroying lives and families every day and cannot be allowed to continue. The immigration and nationality department of the Home Office is clearly not fit for purpose, and the government must call an immediate review into its continued failings.”
Toufique Hossain, a director of public law at Duncan Lewis claims to have obtained some of the internal PSU reports and said:
“Grave concerns are raised as to Home Office failings on a daily basis. A government body essentially investigating itself, put simply, will never hold itself accountable.
[Image credit: https://sterling-law.co.uk/en/inappropriate-behaviour-immigration-officers/immigration-police/]
“The burden is very much placed on the individual under the Home Office’s control, more often than not with the assistance of publicly funded lawyers and NGOs, to ensure that the Home Office is held to account. Only through these mechanisms can vulnerable individuals access courts in order to vindicate their rights.”