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.

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.


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