#swinderby_residential_short-term_holding_facility

  • The (many) costs of border control

    I have recently finished writing up a four-year study of the UK immigration detainee escorting system. This fully outsourced form of border control has not been the subject of academic inquiry before. While there is a growing body of work on deportation, few people have studied the process and its organisation in person, while sites of short-term detention have similarly been overlooked.

    The escorting contract is run as two separate businesses: ‘in-country’, known (confusingly for those more familiar with the US) as ICE, and Overseas, also referenced as OSE. ICE includes 31 sites of short-term immigration detention, many of which are in ports and airports including four in Northern France around Calais and Dunkirk, and a fleet of secure vans and vehicle bases. Overseas officers enforce removals and deportations. While staff may be cross deployed for ‘operational needs’, and some people do move from one part to another over the course of their careers, ICE and OSE are managed separately and staff in each tend to view themselves as distinct from colleagues working for the other.

    The study took many years to arrange and then was severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was one of the most taxing pieces of research I have ever done, and I am still recovering from it. A book about the project is currently in press and should be out later this year, with Princeton University Press. Here I explore some of the ‘costs’ of this system; in financial terms, in its impact on those employed within it, and on their communities. All these matters occur in the context of the impact of the system of those subject to it, as they are denied entry and forced to leave. As a researcher, I was also adversely affected by studying this system, but I shall leave reflections on that to a different piece.

    The current ten-year contract was awarded to Mitie, Care & Custody, in December 2017 at an estimated cost to the public of £525 million. Previous incumbents included Tascor, (part of the Capita group) and G4S. Like those competitors, Mitie holds many other contracts for a variety of public and private organisations. In their 2023 annual report, ‘Business Services’ (29%, £1172m) and ‘Technical’ Services (29% £1154m) provided the lion’s share of the company’s income, followed by ‘Central Government and Defence’ (20%, £828m). Profits generated by ‘Care & Custody’, which includes those generated by three immigration removal centres (Harmondsworth, Colnbrook and Derwentside) that are run under a different set of legal and financial arrangements, were not listed separately. Instead, they formed part of a general category of ‘Specialist Services’ made up of three other businesses areas: ‘Landscapes’, ‘Waste Management’ and, rather incongruously, ‘Spain’. Together, these four sets of contracts constituted just 10% of the company’s revenue (£411m) that year.

    The precise agreement that the Home Office signed for the services Mitie provides is hidden, like all contracts, under the veil of corporate confidentiality. But some information is available. The escorting contract, for instance, is subject to what is known as a ‘cap and collar’. This financial arrangement, which is designed to reduce exposure to financial risk for both parties, meant that during the pandemic, when the borders closed and the numbers detained in immigration removal centres dropped, that the company did not lose money. Despite detaining or deporting very few people, the collar ensured that staff continued to be paid as normal. Similarly, the cap means that Mitie is restricted in the additional costs they demand from the Home Office. The internal transportation of people under immigration act powers, for example, is paid for by ‘volume’, i.e. by the number of people moved within a daily requirement. Any additional movements that are requested that above that level generates profit for the company, but only within a set parameter.

    The cap and collar does not entirely protect Mitie from losing money. The contract includes a range of ‘service credits’, ie fines, which are applied by the Home office for cancellations, delays, injuries, and, escapes. The Home Office is also subject to small fines if they cancel a request without sufficient time for Mitie to redeploy the staff who had been assigned to the work.

    While a missed collection time (eg a person detained at a police station, who must be taken to an immigration removal centre) may incur Mitie a fine of £100, a delayed deportation would result in a fine ten times that sum, and a death ten times more again. These economic penalties form the basis of regular discussions between Mitie and the Home Office, as each side seeks to evade financial responsibility. They also shape the decisions of administrative staff who distribute detained people and the staff moving them, around the country and across the world. It is better to risk a £100 fine than a £1000 one.

    For staff, border control can also be considered in financial terms. This is not a particularly high paying job, even though salaries increased over the research period: they now hover around £30,000 for those employed to force people out of the country, and somewhat less for those who work in Short-term holding facilities. There is also, as with much UK employment, a north-south divide. A recent job ad for a post at Swinderby Residential Short-Term Holding Facility listed a salary of £26,520.54 for 42 hours a week; for two hours less work per week, a person could go to work in the nearby Vehicle base at Swinderby and earn £25,257.65. Down in Gatwick, the same kind of job in a vehicle base was advertised at £28,564.63. Both sums are well below the mean or median average salary for UK workers, which stand at £33,402 and £33,000 respectively. As a comparison, the salary for starting level prison officers, on band 3, is £32, 851, for fewer weekly hours.

    Under these conditions, it is not surprising to find that staff everywhere complained about their pay. Many struggled to make ends meet. As might be expected, there was a generational divide; unlike their older colleagues who were able to obtain a mortgage on their salary, younger people were often stuck either in the rental market or at home with their parents. Few felt they had many alternatives, not least because many of the sites of short-term holding facilities are in economically depressed areas of the UK, where good jobs are hard to come by. In any case, staff often had limited educational qualifications, with most having left school at 16.

    Border control has other kinds of costs. For those who are detained and deported, as well as their families and friends, these are likely to be highest of all, although they do not directly feature in my study since I did not speak to detained people. I could not see how interviewing people while they were being deported or detained at the border would be ethical. Yet the ethical and moral costs were plain to see. In the staff survey, for example, 12.35% of respondents reported suicidal thoughts in the past week, and 7.4% reported thoughts of self-harm over the same period. Both figures are considerably higher than the estimates for matters in the wider community.

    Finally, and this part is the springboard for my next project, there are clearly costs to the local community. When I first started visiting the short-term holding facility at Manston, near Dover, when the tents had only just gone up and the overcrowding had not yet begun, I was shocked at the size of it. A former RA base, it includes many buildings in various states of disrepair, which could have been redeveloped in any number of ways that did not include depriving people of their liberty. Perhaps it could have included affordable homes for those trapped in the rental market, as well as non-custodial accommodation for new arrivals, new schools, a hospital, perhaps some light industry or tech to employ people nearby. What would it take to work for a vision of the future which, in principle, would have room for us all?

    https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2024/03/many-costs-border-control
    #UK #Angleterre #rétention #détention_administrative #renvois #expulsions #business #ICE #OSE #Overseas #Calais #ports #aéroports #Dunkerque #privatisation #migrations #réfugiés #coûts #Mitie #Tascor #Care_&_Custody #G4S #Harmondsworth #Colnbrook #Derwentside #home_office #Swinderby_Residential_Short-Term_Holding_Facility #Swinderby #Gatwick #travail #salaire #contrôles_frontaliers #frontières #santé_mentale #suicides #Manston