Mr Howarth (MP for Cambridge),
I would like to draw your attention to the adjournment debate on Oakington Immigration Reception Centre to be held in the House of Commons on the 8th of June. I am writing to encourage you to take part in this debate given the fact the city you represent is the nearest major centre of population to the centre.
I have visited the centre and applied (unsuccessfully) to become a member of the Independent Monitoring Board. As I am sure you are aware the fabric of the institution is in a very poor state as a result of a lack of maintenance due to it being under imminent threat of closure for over four years. As well as deterioration of the physical fabric the uncertainty over the future has resulted in poor staff morale and the employment of inexperienced temporary immigration staff.
There are two points which I believe it would be worthwhile raising:
- Why is the UK so slow at making decisions on individuals’ immigration status? If decisions were made more rapidly we wouldn’t be incarcerating so many people in institutions such as these. Detaining people for months, and in some cases years on end is expensive, inhumane, and risks radicalising people and leaving them with a hatred of Britain. No-one benefits from the holding of people for excessive lengths of time in these centers. Published statistics contain major omissions:
- They do not contain a breakdown showing how long those who have been held for more than a year have been detained. There is a line in the statistics for “over a year” (over 215 as of March 2009), but there is no reassurance that no individuals have been held for more than three years for example. It has been suggested that there have been individuals held in detention centers for 28 and 22 months the published statistics do not confirm this or reveal or reveal how widespread such long periods of detention are.
- The published statistics do not provide any insight into the causes of the delays.
- The published statistics exclude those held solely under Immigration Act powers in police cells and Prison Service establishments.
- I believe the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) could be doing a lot more to identify problems at the centre and publicise them. The ineffectiveness of the IMB is in my view demonstrated by the damming review of Oakington IRC by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers who in her 2008 report wrote:
“Neither staff nor managers appeared to take an interest in the individual circumstances and concerns of detainees. For example, they appeared unaware of the fact that they had been holding a Chinese man for nearly two years.” (*)
I feel an effective IMB would have detected both this, and other problems. I discovered during the process of applying for the IMB that current members at Oakington appear not to take an interest in the most important element of the individual circumstances of detainees, how long they are being detained and if their cases are being considered in a timely manner. I fully understand that IMB members have no role in the legal due process, but I do think they have a role in reporting on if those detained have access to a timely due process and are kept aware of progress. I think the IMB ought be highlighting the existence of, and causes of delays to Ministers and the wider public. The IMB at Oakington appeared to me to be of the opinion it had no role in keeping the wider public or MPs such as yourself aware of the situation in the centre.
The IMB at Oakington has been undermanned consistently over the last few years. I have been told that as of the 8th of May 2009 there were five vacancies on the board of twelve. Such undermanning must have an impact on the board’s effectiveness. The recruitment and selection process is very slow, regularly taking well over a year. Boards at many prisons and immigration centers have noted this in their reports.
The Prison Service and the IMB Secretariat have both refused to publish contact details for IMB Chairs. I believe families and friends of those held in institutions, legal representatives, and members of the public generally ought to be able to easily contact these boards. As should the media, MPs, MPs researchers and those applying to join a board. There are lots of reasons these contact details ought be easily available, many people would have legitimate reasons for wanting to get in touch. I believe the chair of Oakington’s IMB is currently Penny Lambert who can be contacted on penny dot lambert at btinternet.com
Finally I was told about the existence of this debate a few days before it was published on the Parliamentary calendar (http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/). All upcoming debates ought be publicised as soon as they can be so that people have as much chance as possible to lobby their MPs.
While I would appreciate an acknowledgement I am not seeking a personal reply. I’ll watch the debate.
[Full Name and Address Supplied]
The Independent Monitoring Board
I have also contacted the chair of the IMB suggesting they actively seek to inform the debate using their knowledge of the situation at the centre. I note their latest report was published online on the 18th of May 2009. It states that the Fast Track Process for dealing with those detained has been stopped. Many of their concerns are those which they have raised in previous years but have not been acted on. The report notes that the centre was painted in advance of the visit by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers. It also reveals that one of the seven members of the board is not currently active, meaning it is down to just six out of twelve members. The board expresses a concern at the reduction in the level of legal service offered to detainees.