Friday, October 15, 2010

The UK's deportation system claims a life

We've known for a long time that the UK's deportation system is a human rights scandal. A 2008 report from Medical Justice [PDF] found that private security guards hired to accompany deportees engaged in "widespread and seemingly systemic abuse", including beatings, kicking, stomping, and that this sometimes resulted in serious injury. That trend has now reached its nadir with the death of a deportee at the hands of security guards last night:

A man who died while being deported to Angola was being heavily restrained by security guards and had complained of breathing problems before he collapsed, a witness has told Guardian.

Jimmy Mubenga lost consciousness while the British Airways flight was on the runway at Heathrow on Tuesday night. The commercial flight was cancelled and Mubenga was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Kevin Wallis, a passenger on the aircraft, said he had been sitting across the aisle from Mubenga and watched as three security guards restrained him with what he believed to be excessive force.

Wallis said he heard Mubenga complain: "I can't breathe, I can't breathe" for at least 10 minutes before he lost consciousness, and later observed that handcuffs had been used in the restraint.

The death is being blamed on positional asphyxia, an inability to breathe due to the position Mubenga was restrained in. But the real cause is the attitude of the security guards, who want deportees to shut up and be quiet, will use force to achieve that, and ultimately don't give a shit about their health. A similarly callous approach led to the death of Joy Gardner at the hands of police in 1993; because she wouldn't shut up, they wrapped her head in 13 feet of duct tape, and smothered her to death.

UK police are apparently investigating, but it'll almost certainly be the usual whitewash. The UK police care as little for deportees as the security thugs, and certainly don't want to create a precedent of holding people accountable for excessive use of force. After all, it could be applied to them.

Meanwhile, its worth noting that the company these guards worked for - G4S - is one of those the government wants to run our prisons. Given their involvement in this incident, and in assaults and beatings, they should be barred from security operations in New Zealand. Their organisational culture is clearly incapable of treating prisoners lawfully, let alone with the level of dignity and humanity required by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. If the government ignores this and hires them, then they will be directly responsible for the inevitable subsequent abuses.