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Immigration: Harmondsworth Removal Centre

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 30 November 2006

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The House will be aware that there was a disturbance at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre yesterday. I would like to pay tribute to the speed and professionalism of the services who responded in containing the incident and ensuring that the centre was brought back under control without serious injuries or loss of life. The operation in response to the incident is ongoing, but the following events have been reported to me.

A number of small fires were lit in the early hours of the morning which automatically activated the sprinkler system. The police surrounded the perimeter and the fire service attended the scene. At 1.15 am the decision to open the Gold Command Suite at Prison Service Headquarters was taken. Prison service “tornado” teams arrived by 6 am and were deployed soon after 7 am.

The police service secured the perimeter and the perimeter remained secure throughout the incident. No detainees escaped. There have been no reports of serious injuries to staff or detainees. There has been no risk to the public.

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) has informed me that 484 detainees were present at Harmondsworth at the time of the disturbance and that of these 177 were foreign nationals who had been convicted of criminal offences, had completed their custodial sentences and who were in the process of being deported or considered for deportation. The centre also held immigration offenders and failed asylum seekers who are in the United Kingdom in breach of our immigration laws and who are being held pending removal.

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

Operations took place last night safely to transfer detainees from Harmondsworth to other secure accommodation in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and Prison Service estates. No detainees from Harmondsworth have been released. Around 150 low-risk immigration detainees from elsewhere in IND's estate may be bailed, with reporting restrictions, in order to accommodate the higher risk population transferring from Harmondsworth, but the actual number bailed may be fewer, as the operation progresses. No foreign national prisoners have been released.

The director-general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has assured me that, in all cases, removal from the country will be pursued vigorously.

In the early hours of this morning, there was an incident at Lindholme detention centre. The fire service attended. The incident has been dealt with and there was no loss of accommodation.