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Prince Kwabena Fosu, a 31-year-old man from Ghana, is one of a long list of people who've died in Harmondsworth detention centre. He died in solitary confinement after an apparent violent interaction with a GEO Group guard on October 30th. The tragic death and subsequent silence demonstrates once again the lethal indifference shown by private contractors, in this case GEO, and once again the hushed inaction in the aftermath stinks of a cover-up.
“There is an inquest which - means there is something suspicious – this week. There's no legal representation and the family have no support. The officer involved went on leave immediately after the incident. It seems very much like their brushing it under the carpet and hoping it will go away,” says a NoBorders activist.
Around 15 activists held a noisy demonstration outside the detention centre last Tuesday (6th) during which a mobile number was displayed on a banner along with an appeal for information. Detainees crowded round windows, answering the chants and shouts of 'freedom' and 'liberty' in various languages to the protesters who'd wangled their way close to the detention centre compound and attracted attention with whistles and a megaphone. Several prisoners called to tell what they knew.
“People inside say he was taken to isolation block. They think he was hit because the guard came back with blood on him, and that he didn't have a blanket was very cold all night. He died the next day, he'd called for distress and the guards didn't respond,” SchNEWS was told. “Generally people seemed in distress about being in there, there's a tense atmosphere, people are anxious... People are willing to talk to the media, but guards have been threatening them. The guards have been looking into who's been visiting who.”
Eventually the demonstration was rounded on by cops who warned them to move or get nicked for 'breach of the peace'. Inside, the guards moved in to block access to the windows.
Harmondsworth, a 615-room centre, is privately run by GEO Group UK Ltd, a company a bit like G4S's equally evil but less notorious little brother. But it's not so little either: it boasts of being the “World's leading provider of correctional detention and residential treatment services with 108 facilities, approximately 75,000 beds, and 20,000 employees around the globe”. Other pies in which they put their sticky fingers include 'mental health facilities' and 'community supervision services' with 'cutting-edge' electronic monitoring technologies. Their biggest operations so far are running private prisons in the US.
It stands alongside G4S and Serco as one of the lead beneficiaries of the plan to put power over the increasingly violent deportation machine into private hands, under cosy deals where any idea of public accountability is washed away like blood off a cell floor. It's proving lucrative for them. The new contract for running Dungavel House in Scotland is expected to make the GEO Group £5m per year, continuing the massive year-on-year increases in profits for its UK operations. In general, 2011 was a bumper year for the death squad. Along with the Dungavel deal, the capacity at Harmondsworth was increased by 360 beds.
As well as giving GEO a few million quid in contracts to do their dirty work, the government have been showering the company with dubious awards. GEO won the UKBA's supplier awards in three out of seven categories earlier this year, including Tom Gallety winning Director of the Year and several staff members coming in second place as team of the year for “their work in ensuring Harmondsworth IRC remains a safe and secure place for detainees, staff and visitors”.
The official response from GEO management to the latest tragedy? “It would be inappropriate to comment at this stage”. Actually, GEO, immediately after the unexplained death of a man incarcerated in your facility – after reports that he was beaten, stripped and locked in a cold room alone and ignored – it is about the time you should be saying something. Likewise, the Home Office have kept silent, with both refusing to disclose even the name and nationality of the man. The 'an inquest is underway' excuse is a handy one: the inquest into the death of an American who died after several days in the neighbouring Colnbrook centre in July 2011 is not due for completion until 2013, long after his name has been forgotten. They also refused to state whether any member of their staff had been removed from duty following the death (the perpetrator, known as Jim, was in fact speedily bundled off on 'holiday').
The company is no stranger to controversy. Across the pond, a GEO-run youth prison in Mississippi was investigated after it was found that guards were sexually abusing inmates – in one case taking a prisoner to a motel for sex – bringing drugs into the premises and using disproportionate violence routinely as a first resort. Other facilities saw inmates riot at bad treatment, while family members of prisoners who died in custody have taken GEO to court for medical negligence of health conditions.
In the UK, the company ran Campsfield House detention centre, near Oxford, until recently. The centre was the target of the Campaign to Close Campsfield House and the location of almost rolling hunger strikes at mistreatment and indefinite detention. A statement from Ghanian detainees at Harmondsworth released after the death pointed not only to the need to explain Prince Kwabena Fosu's death but to the general dire conditions and lack of adequate medical attention at the centre.
As another campaigner told SchNEWS: "UKBA awards and vomit-inducing CSR reports can only camouflage so much. GEO, just like G4S, have blood on their hands. These companies need to be exposed for the role they play in imprisoning and abusing innocent people."
As the UKBA says: “Expanding the number of removal centres is a critical part of our plans to increase the rate of removal of failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, and to allow the fast removal of those who come to the United Kingdom and break the rules.” GEO look poised to capitalise on detention over the coming years, and neither they, nor their cheerleaders UKBA, want a small fact like the violent death of an innocent person to get in their way. Unfortunately for them, campaigners like those shouting outside Harmondsworth's fences, are equally determined not to let these deaths be forgotten.
As tensions escalate between migrants and the authorities in Calais, the right-wing mayor Natasha Bouchart has made some surprising announcements: demanding a new reception centre for 400 vulnerable people and a day centre for migrants from central government. What's that all about?
The use of 'secret dossiers' to detain Palestinians indefinitely and without charge - the struggle continues as the latest victims are kidnapped and imprisoned.
Mass squatting action in metal recycling plant pulled off in style, after brutal policing leaves hundreds of undocumented people without shelter.
Immigration rights activists descend on Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres to bring a message of solidarity and resistance.
Mass evictions of migrants in progress now
We started writing about three interesting but unrelated things happening in June. Here is an amalgamated version, which is worth a read.
Probation services set to be taken over by private sector mega corporations, during 'revolution' in prison and probation services.
Spanish Guardia Civil use extreme violence against migrants trying to enter the EU as repressive measures against potential migrants take root in Morocco. First hand account...