Yet another damming report on Oakington Immigration Centre has been published, this time by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP). The content has been discussed in an article entitled: Immigration centre ‘is unsafe’ published on the BBC News website on the morning of Friday, 12 December 2008.
Initially the report wasn’t available online, so I made a request for it using the Freedom of Information website Whatdotheyknow.com. HMCIP have now taken up my suggestion that the report be made available on the Oakington page of the HMCIP website. I have suggested that in future the report ought be placed online at the same time as it is released to the press. This would ensure members of the public can obtain it and read it when it is in the public eye.
I have visited the centre and am concerned about the oversight of what is going on there. Those of us living so close-by in Cambridge ought be aware of what is being done in our name. I am aware of the plight of those incarcerated at Oakington and have volunteered to join the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB). I believe if that board, a group of local people, was functioning it would be able to directly help alleviate some of the issues raised by the report. Board members are expected to take an interest in the individual circumstances and concerns of detainees and monitor the use of force. These are both areas where today’s report says there are inadequacies.
- The IMB at Oakington was recently recruiting (there was an advert in the Cambridge Evening News).
- Those adverts show the board is down to only seven people, it should I have been told have about twice as many members
While new people have volunteered they have been awaiting security checks for about a year now (apparently this includes me). This is preventing the places on the IMB being filled.
Also local people who volunteer who visit detainees (a different role from the IMB), were finding it difficult to get to see detainees due to insufficient capacity in the visiting room, so there are many people keen to improve things for those held in Oakington whose efforts are being thwarted.
One of the items in the report being covered by the press today is the fact a Chinese man was held for almost two years despite wanting to return to China. I was told when I visited of problems dealing with China, the Chinese are reluctant to take those they see as criminals back, and intentionally disrupt the process. The Telegraph is reporting that in this case China insisted the remote village the man said he came from did not exist.
I am aware that in the UK the wheels of the state can turn very slowly, we need to speed up decision making, people should not be held for years on end in these “reception centres”.
I do not think that holding people for extended periods in these centres is good for Britain or for the people being held.
The report reveals that The Refugee Council and Immigration Advisory Service which both currently operate at Oakington, and provide services to the detainees are under threat. The Refugee Council being due to leave and the future of the Immigration Advisory Service being uncertain. The report recommends that detainees ought have access to specialist legal advice, in line with Police and Criminal Evidence Act Codes of Practice.