Expanded detention facility reopened at Manchester airport

A refurbished and expanded detention facility to hold people arrested on arrival or due to be deported from the country was reopened at Manchester airport earlier this month. Having added the new centre to their "city of shame" map, Manchester No Borders declared: "No immigration detention centres anywhere!"

Previously known as Manchester Detention Centre, Pennine House can now hold up to 32 detainees, double its previous capacity. Located airside in Terminal 2, the new centre now has a direct landside access for vehicles into a secure vehicle yard alongside the facility. As a so-called residential short-term holding facility, it can hold people for up to seven days until they are either deported or transferred to other detention centres.

Manchester Airport's Terminal 2 also has a second short-term holding facility within its secondary examination area, but this is non-residential and is used mainly by the airport immigration staff. Both facilities are managed on behalf of the UK Border Agency (UKAB) by Group 4 Securicor (G4S), which is also the UKBA's principal detention escort contractor.

A report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in September last year found that people were detained at Manchester airport for up to a few days in a "poor" and "disrespectful" environment, with no access to fresh air and daylight. The report also found that no designated senior immigration officer had responsibility and duty chief immigration officers did not routinely visit to check the centre, which meant that all was left up to the G4S staff. As a result of negotiation between the UKBA and the National Council of the Independent Monitoring Boards, recruitment of a board to visit the detention centre is supposedly underway.

Earlier this year, Manchester No Borders staged a noisy protest outside the Manchester offices of Carillion National Building, the construction company that was contracted to carry out the expansion of the detention centre at Manchester Airport. Carillion Plc is a UK-based construction company, with an annual revenue of around £4bn and operations across Britain and overseas. Carillion's business units range from nuclear and defence to highways maintenance. As part of the Carillion group, Carillion National Building focuses on what they call the 'defence and secure sector', designing, constructing, financing and operating prisons and law courts across the UK. Their customers have included HMP Brixton in London, HMP Altcourse in Liverpool, the UK Passport Service and Manchester Magistrates Court.

Opening the Manchester facility, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas -who was recently pied in the face by Manchester students following his xenophobic comments in a press interview- unrepentantly said: "The Government will seek to remove anyone who is here illegally, and we make no apologies for being tough on illegal immigration." "This new facility will help us increase removals of those who have no right to remain in the UK," he added.

In its press release announcing the reopening of the facility, the Home Office included 'removal case studies' supposedly illustrating the type of people held there. These were mostly portrayed as convicted foreign nationals or people with forged passports who "have no right to be here," as the minister put it. According to official reports, however, only a quarter of the Manchester detention centre's occupants arrived from the airport. The great majority arrived from other detention centres, underwent time-consuming checks to be admitted airside, and a couple of days later were transferred again to another centre. As such, the centre's main function, like other similar centres, is a staging post for detainees being transferred from one detention centre to another or from detention centres in the north to airports in the south. Few of the detainees have committed any crimes. Rather, they are arrested and detained when their asylum claims are refused, their visas run out, or they are otherwise deemed to "not have the right" to be in this country. This includes school and university students, migrant workers and families who have long been settled in the UK and who are often 'snatched' in dawn raids from their homes. The average period spent in the Manchester detention centre is said to be 43 hours, but many detainees are known to have spent up to five days there.

The expanded centre at Manchester airport is part of the UKBA's plans to expand its detention capacity by 60% over the next two years, from 2,500 to 4,000. The extra spaces will obviously help the government continue to increase its forced deportations. Locating short-term detention centres at ports and airports around the country ensures that this is done 'swiftly and efficiently', away from public attention. In the words of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers (August 2005), "though they hold detainees only for short periods, they do so at a time of maximum anxiety and uncertainty, outside the public gaze." Airside detention centres are also particularly hard to reach as people would need a permission from the airport authorities to get in, making it more difficult for campaigners to do anything.

So-called Short-Term Holding Facilities (STHFs) typically consist of one or more secure rooms attached to ports, airports or Immigration Reporting Centres and hold those who have either been detained there or 'snatched' in so-called enforcement operations. Some are also held there temporarily while being transferred between detention centres across the country. STHFs could either be residential, which means people can be held there for up to seven days, or non-residential, where people are normally held for a few hours before being transferred, released or deported - although it is quite common that detainees are held for up to 36 hours. Police stations are also classed as short-term residential holding facilities, which means immigration detainees should not be held there for more than five days before their transfer or release, or seven days if removal is imminent.

There are currently four residential STHFs in the UK:

- Colnbrook STHF at Colnbrook detention centre, Heathrow (London), run by Serco, capacity 40;

- Harwich International Port, Essex, run by Abbey Security Ltd, capacity 12;

- Manchester Airport, Manchester, run by G4S, capacity 32; and

- Port of Dover, Dover, run by Dover Harbour Board, capacity 20.

There are also 25 non-residential STHFs, which are usually located at ports, airports or immigration reporting centres around the country. All are run by Group 4 Securicor Ltd (G4S), which took over from Global Solutions Ltd (GSL) at the beginning of the financial year 2005.

An inspection programme for short-term holding centres began in the summer of 2004, the first time these facilities had been exposed to independent scrutiny. The first set of reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, which covered Communications House (London), Lunar House (Croydon), Electric House (Croydon) and Dallas Court (Manchester), found that "there is little external supervision or regular monitoring of these centres." Since then, the "systemic deficiencies" common to most, if not all, STHFs have become all too familiar in these inspection reports: prolonged detention (due to over-crowdedness in 'normal' detention centres) despite the facilities' not being fit for staying overnight; use of force and segregation; lack of information and healthcare; inadequate facilities; untrained or inadequate staff (especially in dealing with children, those who self-harm and other vulnerable groups); women and children being kept in the same room as single men.. and so on.

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