Yorkshire academics, activists and organisations working within the refugee-related sector have had their suspicions of the multinational corporation, G4S, for a long while. Group 4 Securicor, the conglomeration formed when Securicor merged with other security companies, have recently been deemed the ‘preferred’ bidder for a huge government contract that would see this profitable private company being responsible for the provision of social housing for asylum seekers in the whole Yorkshire and Humberside region. This is not a regional anomaly. All across the country, these housing contracts are being taken away from Local Authorities and offered to huge, multinational security companies such as Serco, Reliance Security and G4S. G4S are responsible for a huge variety of security jobs, from emptying cash machines to providing security guards for multi-million dollar events. Recently, they have been awarded a £100 million contract for running security inside the Olympic Park. Working alongside the British Army and their ammunition, G4S seems to have a very cosy relationship with government authorities. One of its current directors is the former Home Secretary John Reid. Over the past years, G4S has consolidated its position as the preferred private company to manage the practicalities of the UK’s justice system. In 2011, G4S managed 675 court and police cells, four detention centres for asylum seekers, and since summer 2011, they have managed the notorious ‘family friendly’ detention centre at Pease Pottage. The UKBA has confirmed that the new asylum housing contracts will be given to companies with a good reputation. Unfortunately, a comprehensive portfolio of government contracts cannot suffice as a “proven track record”. Until 2011, G4S were also responsible for the transportation, forcible deportation and dispersal of asylum seekers, but lost this contract due to the revelation of their appalling treatment of people in their care. This list, compiled by South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, proves that G4S has a far from a stellar reputation:
- 2008: Medical Justice detailed nearly 300 cases of alleged physical assault and racial abuse by private security guards in the deportation process.
- March 2010: G4S (and other security contractors involved in deportation) had failed to manage the use of violent restraint.
- October 2010: A Colombian deportee was badly injured when forced onto an aircraft by G4S.
- October 2010: An Angolan asylum seeker died at the hands of G4S during a forced deportation. Two of the guards face criminal charges and G4S are still waiting to hear whether they face corporate manslaughter charges.
- A report by PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) in 2008 interviewed former detainees about their experiences in detention. Five of them encountered racism from the staff in detention centres.
- April 2010: a 40 year old Kenyan detainee died at G4S’s Oakington detention centre, partly due to neglect of his medical condition.
If this frightening list of malpractice is not enough, in 2010 alone, there were a seven hundred and seventy-three complaints made against G4S by detainees. Shockingly, G4S were allowed to investigate themselves under the ‘scrutiny’ of the UKBA. This is hardly a comforting thought. We cannot allow governments to place profitability over the safety and human dignity of others; political ideology should not put others at risk. As Sheffield activists proved today, now is the time to take action.