Harmondsworth migrant detention centre, near London

“Truly shocking” and “chaos”. That’s what an inspection this year into the hellhole removal centre Harmondsworth near London’s Heathrow airport found.

Dirty, dilapidated and unsafe—the HM Inspectorate of Prisons said the conditions were “the worst they have seen in immigration detention”.

The prisons inspector last visited in 2017 and deemed the situation to be “critical”—yet conditions have deteriorated further.

Some 48 percent of those caged felt suicidal during their stay, with one suicide attempt taking place during the inspection. 

The centre had not taken full action to stop suicide attempts. It had not implemented recommendations from “near-miss” investigations, such as the removal of ligature points that had been used repeatedly in suicide attempts.

“Self-harm prevention work was generally poor,” the report found. One man, who had been placed on constant watch because he was assessed to be at imminent risk of self-harm, was not watched by anyone.

Chief inspector Charlie Taylor was so concerned that he wrote to then home secretary James Cleverley shortly after the inspection in February.

Cleverly ignored him.

The report said detainees freeze inside their cells at the 658-bed centre, the largest of its kind in Europe.

One man died in a hotel after he was released—he had previously been exploited for sex work and forced labour. Another man was stretchered in despite the Home Office accepting he wasn’t fit to be detained.

Assaults had doubled since the last inspection in 2017 and nearly two thirds of those detained said they had felt unsafe.

The centre also had doubled up cells to hold more men. Staff dressed in full personal protective equipment took those who refused to share a room to the separation unit until they agreed to share.  

Meanwhile staff hide in their offices behind “no entry” tapes while detainees complain of violence by staff. Mitie Care and Custody runs the centre despite a “shambolic retendering process” run by the Home Office.

The purpose of the centre is to hold people who are set to be kicked out of the country. Yet 60 percent of detainees are released from the centre, meaning they’re trapped in hell for no reason.

Now Labour is in charge—and it must act. But former Labour prime minister Tony Blair has advised for harsher measures on migrants.

He warned Keir Starmer to “close off the avenues” of the populist right like Reform UK by keeping tough controls on immigration.

Blair told the Guardian newspaper, “The populist usually doesn’t invent a grievance, they exploit the grievance. If you want to close off their avenues for increasing support, you’ve got to deal with the grievance.

“That’s why Keir is absolute right in saying you’ve got to have controls on immigration.”

In fact, conceding to racism encourages and builds the far right.

This week Labour diverted £75 million from the Rwanda scheme to set up the new Border Security Command. It will draw together intelligence agencies, police, border enforcement and border forces.

The new government is already working on a bill to create counter-terror powers aimed at tackling people coming across the Channel.  

Within hours of his election win Starmer called the Rwanda scheme “dead and buried”. His reasoning? It was “never a deterrent” and had “the complete opposite effect”.

Starmer and Cooper will be working hard to be tough on immigration and pick up where the Tories failed—stopping refugees entering Britain and deporting more people.

Rather than repelling refugees, Cooper needs to close the wretched Harmondsworth detention centre—and all others like it.  

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