G4S is the UK's biggest private security company, with its government contracts alone worth over £600 million. Responsible for security services, managing detention centres, prisons, and 675 court and police station holding cells, G4S have also just been granted the £100 million contract for providing 10,000 security guards for the upcoming olympics.

Whilst G4S still seem to be government favourites, their record is far from spotless. The firm lost their previous 'forcible deportation' contract last September after receiving 773 complaints of abuse – both verbal and physical. The final straw came with the death of Jimmy Mubenga in October 2010, an Angolan asylum seeker who died as a result of his forced deportation by G4S guards. Two of the guards are on bail facing criminal charges, whilst G4S is still waiting to hear whether they are to face corporate manslaughter charges.

Now, asylum seekers in Yorkshire and Humberside are expected to accept this multi-national, money-hungry, security company as their landlords.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

First they came for the asylum seeker...

Again, we have to thank Jon Grayson for another brilliant article on the Institute for Race Relations' website. Published just before G4S won the government contracts for the provision of asylum seekers' social housing in Yorkshire and Humberside, Grayson puts the "asylum market" (G4S' words, not mine) in the important context of wider privatisation in the UK. 

Below is a short extract from Grayson's article:

"The UK is amongst the most intensively covered by private security with one private guard to every 170 people compared with one police employee to every 382 citizens -figures comparable to Hungary and Serbia. Germany on the other hand has much lighter private security with one private guard for every 484 citizens and one police employee for every 326 citizens. The private security business in the UK is worth £3.97 billion annually. Across Europe this is a very powerful lobby for privatising and marketising state functions. Just three companies have 46 per cent of the market in the UK. Just three companies have 56 per cent of the market across the EU. Published data from the EU does not directly name them but itwould be strange indeed if G4S and SERCO were not amongst them."

Please take a moment to read the whole article here.

According to Grayson, policies that affect asylum seekers have continually been used as trial-runs for wider policy-making. The government's obsession with making 'guinea pigs' out of asylum seekers is testament to the extent to which they have been dehumanised, demonised and deconstructed in the media. It seems like they've created a perfect scapegoat; with real lives and experiences obscured an obscene caricature, the asylum seeker is forced to be both invisible and grossly overexposed. When an individual is so heavily obstructed by layers of institutionalised prejudice and preconceptions, it is little wonder that much of the inflammatory press and political coverage goes unquestioned and almost unnoticed.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Our response to G4S' new asylum contracts // SYMAAG

Our group, the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG) was appalled that G4S has been awarded the contract to house people seeking asylum in Yorkshire and Humberside. They have no experience of providing housing (unless you count detention centres...) and their experience of dealing with asylum seekers is to detain, deport and abuse them. You'll know that 3 G4S employees are on bail facing manslaughter charges relating to the death of Jimmy Mubenga in 2010. The company as a whole is also waiting to see if it will face corporate manslaughter charges. As one local Zimbabwean asylum seeker put it "I don't want a prison guard as my landlord". Many asylum seekers regard G4S winnig the contract as tantamount to house arrest. One company now houses them, transports them and detains them. With G4S providing security at Baghdad Airport, they could even meet them at the other end...Changing the name from "G4S" to "G4S Care and Justice Services" doesn't change these facts.

Although the contract was signed 3 weeks late and only by the Acting Regional UK Borders Agency Director, we were not surprised they have been awarded £millions of public money. There appeared to us to be a high level of collusion between G4S and Yorkshire and Humberside regional UKBA long before the contract was signed. For example the COMPASS/UKBA Transition Team were in close contact with G4S before even the "due diligence" procedure had finished, whereas the COMPASS transition Team were - by definition - tasked with overseeing the transition from existing to G4S-run accomodation. On first-name terms at meetings. More than once, in meetings with G4S managers, they used the past tense to describe them winning the contract. Apart from possible legal challenges to way the contract has been awarded - what risk assessments were done? are children's rights to be safeguarded? - the widespread campaign against privatising asylum housing will now focus its energies on monitoring the standard of housing provided by a company which has stated "Our primary concern is to ensure a return for our shareholders" (Steven Small, Regional Borders and Immigration G4S director in a meeting with SYMAAG and UKBA on 24/2/12). We would like to see asylum seeker tenants federations - linked to established ones - which can ensure that those people who complain about housing standards are taken seriously and not victimised.

We regard the COMPASS Corporate Partner FAQ document (attached) as completely inadequate (and extremely defensive). Despite COMPASS "aiming", "desiring", "looking to" ensure that:
  • G4S-provided housing will be more than substandard
  • That disruption to children's education will be minimised
  • that the sole criteria of re-housing will not be low cost

It is clear that they have no power to enforce any of these stated aims. In fact, 800 human beings face being uprooted in our region, disrupting lives, education, health provision and community integration. The FAQ document talks about complaints mechanisms but in a meeting with COMPASS and G4S management, both agencies made it clear that they regarded anonymised complaints as akin to anecdotes. The fact that they cannot understand why an asylum seeker might want to anonymise their complaint speaks volumes about their utter lack of understanding of the people they aim to house.

Finally, part of the reason that our campaign against G4S in Yorkshire has gained so much momentum is that many people realise their bid to manage asylum housing is a stepping stone to the more lucrative social housing market. Privatisation isn't popular in Yorkshire but solidarity with the underdog is. Evicting and dealing with asylum tenants (who have no tenants rights) is a useful trial run for managing tenants in social housing in future. Like we've always said: "first they come for the asylum seeker..."

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

G4S awarded £203 million pound contract

Today, the inevitable did happen. G4S, Serco and Reliance Security were all awarded their proposed contracts for asylum seekers' social housing across the country. G4S' final contract for Midlands and the East of England, North West, and Yorkshire and Humberside, amounts to a shocking £203 million.

These five-year contracts will put three multi-national security companies in charge of providing accommodation for asylum seekers who are awaiting decisions from the UKBA. Regardless of obvious arguments about the problems of privatisation (arguable relevant to many other issues in contemporary Britain such as the NHS and our motorway network), this outsourcing of critical housing provision crucially ignores the charges and criticisms made against G4S over the past months.

Unsurprisingly, the awarding of this contract comes prior to a potential court case against G4S. The investigation into the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan asylum seekers who died whilst being deported by G4S guards, has been ongoing for 17 years. Recently, a senior judge declared that the decision on whether the G4S guards will be charged is imminent. This incident, alongside a huge portfolio of complaints of racial and physical abuse, led to G4S' deportation contract with the government being terminated in September 2011. It seems that the government - and G4S - will not allow this horrific record to interfere with 'business' once again.

Faced with another frightening demonstration of profit being put before people, big business are once again set to turn the asylum system into a profitable market. The logic is inevitable: profits will soar as equality plummets. As capitalism seeps into some of the most critical support sectors, we're set to see a system where service users are exploited for the financial benefit of multi-national corporations.

It's not difficult to see the changes. I challenge every reader of this blog to note every time they spot the G4S logo on a daily basis. Cash collection, property management, detention centres, event security, prisons, police services, and now housing; their web is ever-expanding.

As the NHS bill passes through parliament, David Cameron introduces ideas to privatise the roads and the publication of the budget looms on the horizon, the fabric of England's public services is set to change dramatically. Unfortunately, damage control is not enough.

Whilst campaigning groups are reeling against defeat, it is important that pressure on the government and private companies does not stop. G4S may have been awarded the contract, but the final decision on the Jimmy Mubenga case is still to be revealed. Just because the government have decided that G4S are the right "provider" for asylum seekers' social housing, this does not mean that we should follow suit.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Well Trained Operatives!

Someone who overheard this conversation emailed me and I thought you might be interested in hearing it.

Anyway, apparently sometime in March, this visitor and a friend had been to one of G4S’ migrant holding centres.  They left the visiting room after the visiting hours were finished, and went to the
toilet. G4S forgot about them, switched off the lights and left the visiting building, locking these two people in.

These two people went to what it is the reception before going inside the
visiting area, and they used the G4s's phone to try to reach staff. They managed to speak to staff on the phone at the
reception visitor centre and about ten minutes later they were released from their temporary imprisonment.
Evidently the G4S staff  were nice and very apologetic. Still, the visitor is puzzled as to what kind of
security company G4S is when they do not do check out that all visitors
have left the building safely.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Dehumanising, not dignified: SERCO's training manuals for detention centre guards

Today, Australian investigative journalists released Serco's 400-page induction training documents for their employees working in Australia's detention centres. Dated in 2009/10, this training manual takes on a strictly prison style technique in its explicit instructions on how to control detainees.

SERCO, the multinational security company contracted to run Australia's detention centres, have a $1 billion contract with the Gillard Government, running 9 different asylum outputs. They also already run two detention centres in the UK, Yarl's Wood and Colnbrook. And to no surprise, they are the preferred bidders - alongside G4S and Reliance Security - for the new asylum housing contracts across the UK. The North West and Northern Ireland can look forward to SERCO providing accommodation for asylum seekers in the imminent further.

The release of SERCO's 2009/10 training manual, allegedly after refusing to release similar documents on multiple occasions, reinforces existing concerns about the capacity for private security companies to provide dignified and respectful services for asylum seekers in detention, deportation or temporary accommodation. Much of the document focuses on key "control and restraint" techniques, recommending using a tactic of "pain" to defend, subdue and control asylum seekers. In a frighteningly dehumanising sentence, employees are advised to "subdue the subject using reasonable force so that he/she is no longer in the assailant category [...] If justified, necessary force is to be used to bring the subject to cooperative subject status whereupon they respond favourably to verbalisation."

Continuing to describe countless different 'defence' techniques, their "control and restraint" tactics sound more like excessive force. Employees are taught to use pressure points, batons and physical restraint to cause "high level of pain and mental stunning" in order to coerce the detainee into submission. Void of any compassionate or reconciliatory language, SERCO's training manual hardly brings "service to life."

Aside from dubious restraint techniques, SERCO's training guide reinforces many other unsavoury tactics. Elsewhere in the document, SERCO describe their use of a "Detention Discipline" interview as something that "appears to be very similar to the one that many parents adopt in responding to the actions of a son or a daughter who appears to have behaved unacceptably." According to SERCO, asylum seekers are to be reprimanded like unruly children. SERCO released a statement this afternoon, declaring that "We are committed to treating the people in our care with dignity and respect, and to keeping all those we are responsible for from coming to any sort of harm." Can they honestly claim that treating asylum seekers as children and submitting them to high levels of pain as a coercion technique provides dignity, respect and care for detainees in their centres?

Furthermore, SERCO advise that the use of force should only be undertaken by male guards. Whilst male employees are told to be "tough, strong, in the lead, in control and not back down and give as good as you get, show no weakness, win if you can, never mind the cost", female guards are told to be "gentle, follow, be compassionate, put others before herself, to share, not to argue and not to get angry." This level of gender stereotyping and categorisation is frightening.

Chris Bowen, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in Australia, released a statement this afternoon, claiming that this SERCO manual is outdated and no longer in use. Reiterating comments made by SERCO's spokesperson, Chris Bowen trundled out the familiar phrases of "defensive actions", "last resort" and "dignity and respect." Regardless of whether the training manual has been superseded by a new edition, these guidelines were in place in 2010, only two years ago. Even last year, a freedom of information request revealed that the government's official contract with SERCO allowed for guards to be hired with no experience, or only with nightclub bouncer training. This training document is hardly a single blip in SERCO's record.

This is another failure of government "outsourcing." It is time to tackle the government-endorsed "asylum market" and remind the authorities of the human lives they are putting at risk in favour of "cost-effective solutions." Private companies, focusing on profit rather than people, are hardly the perfect candidates to provide care, dignity and safety for those seeking sanctuary across the globe.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

It seems that G4S were acting for UKBA

Aziz Hussinin, who was due to be removed later today,  has had his flight cancelled.
Aziz's lawyer was able to get confirmation from the UKBA this morning that the flight to Afghanistan had been cancelled due to the security firm that provides escorts on the charter flight having concerns about the safety of their personnel...
Yes, you've read that correctly. The UKBA believe it's too dangerous for the guards of the security firm that works for them to go to Afghanistan but it's still ok for the men and women due to be on the charter plane to be forcibly returned there.
Anyway we would like to say a big "Thank you" to everyone who faxed and emailed on behalf of Asiz and Gemma and we hope to see Aziz back in Glasgow real soon!
The UNITY Centre
30 Ibrox Street
G51 1AQ

Friday, 9 March 2012

G4S and the Geneva Conventions

Many years ago my husband worked for a security firm.  That was when electronics were in their infancy and the small security firms were interested only in fire and theft. He left them after they decided to invest in apartheid South Africa.  But electronics have come a long way since then and the larger sharks in the pool swallowed up the minnows until large corporations became the norm.  Thus it was that our very own business Securicor joined together with the Danish company Group 4 Falck  to become an international conglomerate G4S.  This corporation was formed in 2004 when Securicor plc and Group 4 Falck, the Danish company consolidated their holdings and became the world’s largest ‘security’ company.  In 2002 the company had bought the Israeli security firm Hashmira.
Security is now big business.  It no longer just protects the customer from theft and fire, but is much more related to managing ‘threats’ from those outside the system:  prisoners, protesters, refugees, asylum seekers; in short those whose lives are less valuable.  And Governments find it useful to outsource these activities to companies protected from Freedom of Information requests, unaccountable to the taxpayer who picks up the tab, and opaque in their commitment to the human rights agenda.
G4S is the almost undisputed leader in this field.  As a Jewish activist in Jews for Justice for Palestinians, I am particularly interested together with other activists, in companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.  In that vein, I attended the Russell Tribunal on Palestine when they took evidence about allegations relating to companies complicit in Israeli violations of international law.  One of the companies with extensive documented evidence of illegality is G4S
The allegations G4S’ complicity with Israeli violations of international law are contained in a report from “Who Profits”, a research project of the Israeli organisation “Coalition of Women for Peace”. 

The allegations can be summarised thus:
1.       G4S has provided security equipment and services to incarceration facilities holding Palestinian political prisoners inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank.
2.       The company offers security services to businesses in settlements.
3.       G4S has provided equipment and maintenance services to Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank.
4.       Finally, the company has also provided security systems for the Israeli police headquarters in the West Bank.

Initially G4S did not respond with anything like alacrity to the evidence presented, but once it became clear that concern was aroused in the Scandinavian countries, they stated that they would be withdrawing their investment in the military checkpoints in the West Bank and in the Israeli police headquarters in the West Bank.  They would though still provide security services to businesses in the illegal settlements, built on Palestinian land for Jewish Israeli settlers.

However the most important part of their investment in the Israeli matrix of security is their commitment to supply security services to the prisons within Israel which hold Palestinian prisoners.
These allegations are important because by supporting the Israeli Occupation in these ways, G4S is assisting in grave breaches of the 4th Geneva Convention. For example, Article 76(1) states that prisoners from an occupied territory should be detained within that territory and not outside it, as they are if they are held in Israel.  Thus by providing facilities to these prisons G4S is complicit in a war crime.

 According to Israeli official statistics from Jan. 31, 2012, there were 4,357 detainees (162 of which are children). Of these detainees, 309 are in arbitrary detention held without trial or release date on the basis of secret evidence. The number of prisoners that have been charged and sentenced is 3,215, among them 1,987 serving out sentences longer than 20 years.  As of February 26th the number has risen to 4,600.  There is compelling evidence that torture takes place and certainly the children captured, often in the dead of night and brought before military courts in chains, are subject to outrageous abuse, against the strictures of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which Israel has signed, but not implemented with respect to Palestinians.

Many prisoners, released amid much fanfare in exchange for the soldier Gilad Shalit, have now been re-arrested, including administrative detainee, Hana al Shalabi, on the twentieth day of her hunger strike, denied the doctor of her choice, and having been strip searched by a male Israeli soldier and assaulted following arrest.

Although G4S managed to obtain legal justification from Professor Rasmussen for their actions, we have received legal advice endorsed by Professor John Dugard which alleges that they have a case to answer for complicity in war crimes.

As States increasingly devolve their public responsibility to private corporate interests and as they distance themselves from their role as guardians of the public realm, they ever more mouth the mantra of ‘security’ to protect their power from those without resource.  A country that prides itself on its ‘security’ expertise is of course Israel, which increasingly works in tandem with Western countries to maintain protection from the ever present ‘threats’.  Corporations like G4S would naturally gravitate towards this country, which has used its 44 year occupation to hone its security apparatus, to maintain their commercial edge.

G4S is increasingly the preferred choice for a wide range of public provision. Ambulances and paramedic uniforms are proudly decorated with their logo.’G4S working together with the NHS.’ For many of us, aware of the nature of this company, it is beyond belief that so compromised a corporation could be considered worthy of any consideration at all.  We need to be aware that their tentacles stretch far and the only way we can be effective against their reach, is to work together to expose them. As campaigners against this company we would support any actions designed to stop them in their tracks and bring to public attention their toxic behaviour.  Our strength can only come from uniting in common purpose.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

March 1st Demonstration Success

Protesting outside Vulcan House, regional HQ of the UK Borders Agency on February 15th
On March 1st, spring sun warmed the 80 protestors gathered outside Sheffield Town Hall to say "No to G4S managing asylum housing". We were a mixed bunch: asylum seekers and refugees from all over the world; asylum rights campaigners from all over Yorkshire and the Midlands; trade unionists opposed to the privatisation of public services; campaigners for migrant women's rights, activists from Palestine (already familiar with G4S for their role in backing the Israeli security forces).

This was the second regional demonstration held in Sheffield against G4S prison guards being given public money to manage the housing of asylum seekers.

Passers-by were mostly keen to take leaflets: there's a lot of understanding in Sheffield about who asylum seekers are and why they come here; there's even more understanding that the privatisation of public services benefits nobody except big corporations like G4S. Some people stopped to listen to the speakers and share their own stories of reduced wages and impossible jobs due to privatisation. A statement was read out from Mafungasei Maikokera, a Zimbabwean refugee who had been charged with assault on G4S! Of course, the charges were dropped and the actual violence came from G4S: "when G4S are at it, it is like a boxing match" she told us.

Apart from a couple of police (one of whom quietly voiced his concerns that G4S were trying to privatise the police force) we stewarded ourselves and marched to the UK Borders Agency where we held another rally in full view - and earshot - of the workers there (some of them supporters of our campaign).

Everybody who wanted to speak got a chance: from a few words of support from people who had travelled from other towns and cities to rousing stuff from SYMAAG's John Grayson, ending with "brothers and sisters, we can beat them!" 6 days after the contract between UKBA and G4S was due to be signed, it is still blank. Every enquiry to UKBA about why this is the case receives a different answer. But the fact remains, G4S and UKBA were mistaken to think that nobody cares about asylum seekers' housing or privatisation.