Shine A Light

What can be done to prevent further injury and death in the UK Border Agency’s care?


As immigration detainees continue to suffer injury, neglect and even death, the charity Medical Justice challenges the apparent impunity of the UK immigration authorities and their commercial contractors.

Emma Mlotshwa
2 August 2012

News that G4S guards, at whose hands Jimmy Mubenga died during deportation, would not face criminal charges made many feel like the security company had been given a licence to kill.  

In May, the inquest into the first of three deaths in immigration detention last summer found "Neglect contributed to the death of Mr. Shukat", that there was a "total and complete failure of care in the management of his health at Colnbrook", and that the report into the death prepared by Colnbrook Healthcare failed to identify any of the failures.

Mr Shukat's cell-mate used the emergency button in their locked cell 10 times in a frantic effort to get help for Mr Shukat, who was groaning in agony, complaining of very bad chest pains, and who was disbelieved by a guard and nurse until it was too late.  He died. The UK Border Agency refuse to say what action they are taking against Serco, who run Colnbrook.

"Neglect contributed to the death of Mr. Shukat."

It was disclosed in court last month that UKBA officials planned to "unbalance" a detainee suffering schizophrenia by moving him from prison to an immigration removal centre. In another case, the high court found that shackling a detainee to Serco guards for eight days amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment, in breach of article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The High Court has ruled three times in the last year that the immigration detention of three severely mentally ill people amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment. UKBA continued the detention of one man despite their own healthcare contractor declaring him unfit to be detained. UKBA’s apparent indifference left this man on the verge of death. UKBA wilfully gambled with his life, fully aware of the risks. They proved incapable of monitoring his health, but were ready to manage his death, concerning themselves with handling press interest should he die.

Medical Justice has documented hundreds of cases of injury sustained during deportation attempts, disturbingly inadequate healthcare provision and a subsequent alarming number of near-death incidents. Some detainees have suffered permanent damage, some life-threatening. Warnings by us and many others have been ignored or trashed by UKBA over the years.

Few detainees get to legally challenge their treatment. Many of the near-death incidents will never be independently investigated. Of the relatively few legal challenges there are, most get settled out of court by UKBA with no judgement in the public domain. In many cases of deaths in immigration detention, there are few witnesses willing to speak out or family members to demand information from UKBA and keep a campaign in the spotlight.  

We fear the lack of much parliamentary and media interest may lead UKBA to feel impervious. As detention and deportation reach an industrial scale, we wonder if UKBA and its private contractors will ever face appropriate consequences for the death and injuries, or if they enjoy state-sanctioned impunity.


The charity Medical Justice exposes and challenges inadequate healthcare provision for immigration detainees.

The Medical Justice annual review on Wednesday 5 September will include a discussion about immigration detention deaths, featuring: Emma Mlotshwa, Co-ordinator, Medical Justice, campaigning to prevent further injury and death; an ex-detainee who has experienced being locked in when fellow detainees died; Dr Ben Robinson, Trustee, Medical Justice, on the effects of lethal conditions in detention; and, on legal and other challenges, Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, who act for Jimmy Mubenga's family.

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