Shine A Light

Sadly, Jimmy Mubenga's death has not changed deportation practices in the UK

On the anniversary of Mubenga's death in deportation, we call on the UK government to end these needless abuses
Emma Ginn
14 October 2011

Medical Justice will join the family of Jimmy Mubenga and others at a vigil today at noon outside the Crown Prosecution Service to mark a year since his death during a deportation attempt.

Independent doctors volunteering with Medical Justice regularly visit immigration detainees who have sustained injuries during attempts to deport them.

In 2008 we published our report, Outsourcing Abuse, on nearly 300 allegations of assault during deportation. Injuries included a punctured lung, a dislocated knee and a broken finger, 42 deportees complaining of having their breathing restricted and some suffering neck injuries from having their head pushed forward between their knees.

We warned that abuses we had seen would happen again. They did. In October 2010, Mubenga died in front of British Airways crew and passengers after being restrained by G4S guards contracted by the British government during an attempt to deport him to Angola. Witnesses say that Mubenga complained repeatedly that he could not breathe.

Police are still investigating the case and considering whether to charge the three guards involved in relation to Mubenga's death. The guards were recently bailed until December.

Medical Justice and many others warned the UK Border Agency again but they failed to demonstrate any concrete changes that will prevent further abuse and death.

During the year since Mubenga died, abuse and death is indeed what we have seen.

Reliance Security Task Management has since won the government contract to escort people being deported, yet allegations of abuse and use of excessive force have continued. Medical Justice volunteer doctors continue to see deportation injuries.

Sadly, the context is that based on medical evidence from many hundreds of detainees that we have assisted, we have documented the disturbingly inadequate healthcare provision that detainees are subjected to in immigration removal centres.

This, combined with the perilous and frightening conditions of detention, and the fear of deportation, is a lethal cocktail, a disaster waiting to happen yet again. Lessons urgently need learning, especially following the deaths of three immigration detainees in one month this summer.

The culture of disbelief towards detainees is literally fatal. While being restrained, Mubenga said that he couldn't breathe. UKBA habitually disbelieves asylum seekers, accusing them of fabricating accounts of persecution in their country, and declaring as fact that they are not in danger if deported to that country. Yet some detainees choose death rather than deportation and take their own lives – as one man reportedly did in Campsfield detention centre near Oxford in August. The Home Office has confirmed the police and prisons and probation ombudsman are investigating the death.

UKBA and its contractors have demonstrated contempt for deportees' lives. The government is ultimately accountable and we question the efficacy of its ability to monitor and control UKBA and its contractors.

We repeat our warning yet again. All deaths in immigration detention are avoidable as detention is optional. No one held in immigration detention is accused of a crime – their imprisonment is not part of any criminal sentence and there is scant judicial oversight.

The damage caused by indefinite and often arbitrary immigration detention and the use of force during deportation is so widespread that the only solution is to end these practices before another tragedy happens.

This piece was originally published on the Guardian's Comment is Free. See also The Lonely Death of Jimmy Mubenga we ran a week after his death thanks to openDemocracy's 50:50.

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