11:07, February 20 255 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-20 11:07:08
Serco given £200m contract to run two more immigration removal centres

A private firm that runs an immigration removal centre dogged by allegations of abuse has been awarded a £200m contract by the Home Office to run two more such centres.

Serco, which runs Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire, will take over Brook House and Tinsley House immigration removal centres near Gatwick airport from May 2020 for eight years, the Home Office said.

Yarl’s Wood was as recently as last week caught up in controversy after a Nigerian woman told a court hearing she was thrown to the floor “like a bag of cement” in an incident involving 11 Serco guards.

Serco came under severe criticism for its mass eviction of asylum seekers in Glasgow last year, although the courts ultimately deemed the move was lawful. In 2015, a dossier of a decade of complaints about sexual abuse and mistreatment at Yarl’s Wood was handed to MPs.

The FTSE 250 company holds contracts to monitor and run detention facilities in Australia, including the controversial Christmas Island detention centre in the Indian Ocean that has been fiercely criticised by campaigners over harsh treatment of asylum seekers.

The immigration minister, Kevin Foster, said: “Detention plays a key but limited role in the wider immigration system and ensures we can remove foreign national offenders and those with no legal right to be in the UK.

“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.”

Serco is taking over operations at Brook House and Tinsley House from another outsourcing multinational, G4S, which announced in September it was to cease operating at the centres.

In September 2017, the BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast undercover footage showing alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers at Brook House.

Fourteen members of G4S staff were dismissed or resigned in the wake of the broadcast and the Home Office asked the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to carry out an investigation. The inquiry was delayed pending legal action.

Last year, inspectors found there was “no culture of abuse” among current staff at Brook House, but there was still a raft of improvements that needed to be made.

As part of the new contract, Serco must increase staff numbers, give detainees access to educational and skills-based activities, increase the number of welfare staff and provide new safeguarding and vulnerability training for staff.

Rupert Soames, Serco Group chief executive, said: “Serco has a great deal of experience of caring for people in the immigration system both in the UK and internationally, and we understand the sensitivity and complexity of this role.

“We know that staff and managers at Gatwick IRC have worked hard to achieve improvements in recent years and we look forward to working with them to build upon this further.

“The Home Office has made significant investment in the design and resourcing of the new contract, and we are committed to ensuring that there is a healthy, decent environment in the centres for all residents and employees.”

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