Home Office accused of failing vulnerable groups in detention centres – watchdog

A watchdog says a belief among some Home Office staff that migrants are trying to abuse the system is causing “shortcomings” in the care of vulnerable groups in immigration removal centres.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s (ICIBI) report focuses on the Home Office’s Rule 35 process, calling it “ineffective”.

Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 creates a mechanism for doctors in immigration removal centres (IRCs) to identify people who may be vulnerable, including torture survivors and those with suicidal intentions.

Chief Inspector David Neal said: “By bringing these individuals to the attention of Home Office staff responsible for authorising and reviewing detention, the Rule 35 process provides an essential safeguard for vulnerable detainees.

“On the basis of this inspection, the Rule 35 process needs to be called out for what it is – ineffective.”

The Home Office said it is “disappointed with the ICIBI’s claims” and that it takes the “welfare of detained individuals extremely seriously”.

In the third annual inspection of adults at risk in immigration, Mr Neal states: “The perception that the Rule 35 process was being abused by detainees was common across teams in the three locations I inspected.

“I do not accept the limited evidence provided to support this assertion and there were few obvious activities underway to address this concern.

“Some Home Office staff and Immigration Removal Centres healthcare staff considered that detainees who could not clearly articulate why they wanted a Rule 35 assessment had been misdirected by legal representatives or coached by fellow detainees.

“In some cases, this may well be true, but this view has become all-pervading.”

In a statement, he added: “It is absolutely clear that there are individuals in the system who have suffered torture and are the victims of trafficking.

“In light of my findings that the system is not working as well as it should, I am concerned that the Home Secretary has judged this to be an appropriate moment to terminate her predecessor’s commission to ICIBI to carry out an annual review of adults at risk policies and safeguards.

“Because it is such an important area, I intend to continue to include this area in my own inspection programme, in line with my statutory remit, and I will continue to bring my findings to the attention of the Home Secretary, Parliament, and the public.”

He also noted: “I found the quality of data relied upon to manage the detention system to be poor, with a number of individuals who had been released many years previously wrongly recorded as being in detention, in some cases in IRCs (immigration removal centres) that are now closed.”

He said work to address issues flagged in the last two annual inspections “has progressed at a glacial pace, with some areas seeing no improvement at all”.

Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, a charity, said: “This report and the Government’s response to it exposes the brazen disdain that it has for the wellbeing of the people under its care.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the welfare of detained individuals extremely seriously, treating all those in detention with dignity and respect.

“The report rightly notes the commitment and professionalism of Home Office teams who work to safeguard those in detention.

“But we know more needs to be done, which is why we have accepted the majority of the report’s recommendations.

“The public rightly expects the Government to control our borders and remove those with no right to be in the UK, including foreign national offenders and those who have arrived here illegally.”