Serco: Home Office hands private firm contract to run removal centres despite allegations of abuse against immigrants

May Bulman
Serco runs five of the 14 private prisons in the UK: Getty

A private company that has been accused of serious abuses against immigrants has been awarded a £200m Home Office contract to run two immigration removal centres.

Serco, which already runs Yarl’s Wood detention centre, will take over Brook House and Tinsley House – currently run by G4S – from May 2020. The contract ends in 2028, with an option to extend until 2030.

A court recently heard that a rape survivor at the centre was involved in an altercation with 11 Serco staff, during which she was thrown to the floor “like a bag of cement”. The outsourcing giant has also faced a string of allegations of sexual misconduct towards female detainees by staff.

The firm also sparked outrage in 2018 when, in its capacity as provider of asylum housing in Scotland, it issued notice to asylum seekers that it planned to change the locks in cases where asylum applications had been refused and tenants had not moved on.

It comes after G4S said it would not bid to renew the contract to run the two centres because it wished to shift its focus onto running prisons. The firm was subject to a storm of criticism in 2017 when undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers was aired on the BBC’s Panorama programme.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law and immigration at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said: "The exposure of shocking abuse by G4S staff at Brook House has led to an Article 3 compliant public inquiry. Now another private contractor, Serco, has taken over. But let’s not forget what vulnerable women described as ‘hell on earth’ in relation to Serco run Yarl’s Wood. Let’s not forget the Channel 4 documentary filming staff at SERCO run Yarl’s Wood referring to female detainees as 'animals', 'beasties' and 'bitches'.

"Crucially however, we must remind ourselves that whatever private company takes over, it is the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who is ultimately responsible for what happens in the UK’s immigration detention estate; which is rotten to its core, and must end."

Pierre Makhlouf, assistant director at Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), said: "We are dismayed that Serco continues to be awarded contracts to run detention centres in the UK despite obviously having failed to protect people in their custody in the past, including a string of sexual abuse scandals in Yarl’s Wood.

"Immigration detention in the UK has become big business. It is unfortunately in the interests of companies like Serco that receive lucrative contracts from the state to drive down costs to maximise profit. As it is, conditions in immigration detention are inhumane and it is our clients that pay the cost."

Rupert Soames, chief executive of Serco, said the firm had a “great deal of experience of caring for people in the immigration system both in the UK and internationally” and it "understood the sensitivity and complexity of this role” and was “committed to ensuring that there is a healthy, decent environment in the centres”.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “This contract is a major step forward in our programme of immigration detention reform. It will significantly improve the day-to-day lives of detainees and the staff who support them.

"This contract is a major step forward in our programme of immigration detention reform. It will significantly improve the day-to-day lives of detainees and the staff who support them."

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