Unrest Aimed To ‘Sabotage’ Policy

Last Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006, 11:47 GMT
BBC News

Unrest aimed to 'sabotage' policy—Mr Reid said the deportation of foreign nationals would continue

Home Secretary John Reid has said that the unrest at an immigration centre in west London was an “attempt to sabotage” the UK's immigration policy.

The protest at the Harmondsworth centre was a planned move to stall the process of deportation, he said.

The centre currently has 484 detainees, 177 of whom are foreign nationals convicted of criminal offences.

About 150 “low risk” detainees will be released from other centres so inmates can be transferred from Harmondsworth.

The centre, near Heathrow Airport, will be partly evacuated once detainees in other centres are released on bail.

Asylum seekers started fires and spelt out Help and SOS with sheets in a day of protests over living conditions.

'Pursued vigorously'

In a written statement to MPs, Mr Reid said: “The disturbance appears to have been an attempt to sabotage the enforcement of our immigration law.

“The perpetrators have been prepared to destroy property and to endanger their fellow detainees… They have, themselves, harmed their own environment.

(Detainees spelt out messages to TV crews overhead: HELP)

“We will not allow them to succeed in frustrating the enforcement of the law.”

He also said that many foreign nationals being held at the centre had completed their custodial sentences and were in the process of being deported or considered for deportation.

“No foreign national prisoners have been released… The director-general of Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) has assured me that, in all cases, removal from the country will be pursued vigorously.”

Police were alerted at about 0040 GMT on Wednesday as unrest spread to all four wings of the centre.

A report had earlier raised concerns about poor relations between staff and detainees at the centre.

Detainees 'unsafe'

Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said her latest report on Harmondsworth gave it the poorest rating she had yet issued on such a facility.

It was not meeting any of her major tests and more than 60% of detainees said they felt unsafe, the report said.

Home Office minister Liam Byrne said he took Ms Owers' report recommendations “very seriously”.

He said: “An action plan responding in detail is currently being drawn up to ensure further improvements are made.”

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green criticised Mr Reid over the need to bail detainees.

He said: “This is yet another example of John Reid's mismanagement of the immigration system.”