Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The other side of the immigrant convicts story

HARMONDSWORTH detention centre
and adjoining Colnbrook removal centre, April 8. Demonstrators were outnumbered by police.
Inside, detainees, were ordered away from windows and locked in cells.
These prisoners have been convicted of no crime. Some managed to speak to people outside by mobile phone. See story below of what happened to Haslar detainee who spoke to press.

BRITISH media are full of stories about foreigners who having been jailed for criminal offences in this country were later released to disappear into the community and, in some cases, commit further offences, when they should have been deported. The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, is being told he should resign over this discovery.

Naturally it's the big issue for those tabloid newspapers which encourage their readers to regard every incomer, especially dark-skinned, as a menace, and treat "asylum seekers" as a criminal category. Naturally we can expect the British National Party to take advantage of the mood in campaigning for tomorrow's council elections. Even if some of its leading activists have more than average inside knowledge of criminal proceedings.

Its organiser Tony Lecomber has convictions for an attempted bombing and for an assault on a teacher. Its leader Nick Griffin, who only this year got off on inciting hatred charges, was an associate of one Roberto Fiore, whom successive Home Secretaries failed to extradite to Italy when he was wanted on terrorism charges. But apart from specialist publications like the anti-fascist Searchlight magazine there was a strange hush about the Fiore case.

I've no brief for Clarke, nor for the rest of this Blairite government, but some questions occur to me about this foreign criminals row. One, is whether foreign criminals who have served their sentences are any more dangerous or likely to re-offend than the native British variety. If not, why the selective hysteria? Another is whether Clarke was really the only person, or even the first, to know that something was going wrong with the deportation policy?

Home Secretaries, like other ministers, come and go, as indeed do governments. But the senior police officers and the civil servants, the "Sir Humphreys" of "Yes, Minister" go on, collect their gongs, and perhaps start second careers, and dare we ask how much they knew and how much they chose to tell the passing suits in office? Or perhaps they tick the box marked "no publicity"?

There is another side to this immigrant and deportation row, and one the papers and TV barely talk about, expecially not now, and it is the ease with which the authorities here can lock up and deport people who are not criminals. "If you want to be let into Britain, you are best off being a criminal!", was a wry joke I heard from some Kashmiri friends some years back, and that was when the Tories were in office. I heard more or less the same from Bangladeshis concerned about former Pakistan collaborators, alleged war criminals, whom Britain admitted to take religious teaching posts.

On the other side of the story, you have detention centres for people who have committed no crime, beyond being here, and a full-size prison at Harmondsworth next to Heathrow for people being deported. It's good business for the private security firms running the centres, but except when there's a major riot the good British public can doze over its tabloids and pretend such places don't exist. "We never deport anybody", said an elderly neighbour when we were discussing asylum and immigration some while back.

Obviously he hadn't heard about Syed Nasir being dragged handcuffed on to a plane at Heathrow. The Pakistani journalist had fled home after his life was threatened because he exposed the use of some religious madrassahs as recruiting centres for terrorism. (When British newspapers decided to run this story after the London bombings they did not acknowledge the man who had risked his life exposing it two years previously). When the British government decided to deport him he was seeking work here, while living with a relative in Kilburn - not far from one of the "charity shops" run by the Italian fascist Roberto Fiore, who never had to fear deportation.

I heard someone on the radio yesterday talking about the government's reluctance to deport "terror suspects" to countries with poor human rights records. How very fastidious. A friend had just contacted me about two brothers at the school where she teaches. Both learned English well, and became popular with teachers and fellow-pupils alike. One of them has been offered a place at St.Martin's art and design college, his younger brother wants to study medicine. But last year their father, who had been working here with a shipping company was detained when he returned to visit Iran. Two lads whom the family knew were arrested there for distributing leaflets against the Islamic regime. Now the two schoolboy brothers in London and their mother face deportation to Iran. They have been warned they could face floggings and imprisonment there for alleged political offences, or associations.

The Home Office seems to have ignored letters and protests. Now if only this family had been criminals or terrorists! Is this what Labour meant when it promised us "joined-up government"? The details of the family can't be given now, as lawyers advise this would affect the legal case. But when the case becomes public again will the national media give it much publicity?

And now here's a news story that has been published, in the Guardian, and gives an insight into this detention and deportation business:

Detainee 'beaten' after talking to press,,1764967,00.html

Amos Onokare Alijaibo, an immigration detainee at Haslar Detention Centre, Portsmouth, has claimed that he was severely assaulted by staff after he spoke to the Guardian about conditions at the centre. Detainee 'beaten' after talking to press.
Eric Allison, prisons correspondent Monday May 1, 2006

An immigration detainee claims that he was assaulted and severely injured by staff after he spoke to the Guardian about conditions at the detention centre. A doctor says that the man's injuries and condition are consistent with his allegations and says that he is alarmed at the lack of concern for his medical condition.

Amos Onokare Alijaibo, 39, spoke to the Guardian by telephone
from Haslar Detention Centre, Portsmouth, on April 16. He said that the following day he joined other detainees in a peaceful protest in the exercise area. When the protest finished he and other inmates were taken in handcuffs to the centre's reception area. Speaking yesterday, Mr Alijaibo claims one officer asked if he was "the Amos who had spoken to the newspaper". He replied that he was. He was then punched in the neck and head and pinned to the ground by
officers who twisted his arms and legs and grabbed his throat.

Mr Alijaibo says that he passed out and awoke on his way to Colnbrook removal centre, near Heathrow. He has been told that he will be deported to Nigeria on May 8, where he says his life will be in danger. Frank Arnold, from the Medical Justice Network, examined Mr Alijaibo on Thursday. He says that his injuries are "entirely consistent" with his claims of assault. He voiced concerns about the
management of his patient's condition, calling it, "deeply deplorable". In particular, he questions why no neurological examination is recorded in the medical notes following the inmate's loss of consciousness. "The combination of this man's history, my examination and the medical notes, written by Colnbrook
staff, show that there has been an alarming lack of concern for his medical condition," he said.

Emma Ginn, from the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation
Campaigns, said: "When the police and the home secretary take no action on the [assault] claims, it is no wonder that some guards believe they are empowered to assault detainees with impunity." A Home office spokesman confirmed that there was a demonstration at Haslar on April 17 and that control techniques were used on one individual. He said that no allegations of mistreatment were

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