CONVICTED criminals being mixed with non-violent detainees, reports of physical abuse and no independent assessments were among concerns raised about the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) at a meeting yesterday of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity.
JSC Chairman Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the written submissions from immigration were in variance with reports about concerns from Living Water Community and the Emancipation Support Committee.
She said the concerns included: physical, verbal and psychological abuse was the norm; bullying by officers; lack of medical care and treatment; sharing of bed space, leaks in dormitories and insect infestations; 15 day to two year stay at the centre with no definite end; detainees not being apprised of their right to a legal representative or to seek asylum; legal representatives and NGOs being denied access to detainees; no system to address the language barriers; and non-violent detainees being housed with those charged with rape and murder.
Gadsby-Dolly questioned if there had ever been any independent visits or assessments of the IDC by a human rights body or civil organisation. Deputy Director of the Office of Enforcement Policy Curtis Belford said there had not been any independent assessments but this would be best practice.
He reported the Immigration Division had not initiated any visits but the time was ripe for such visits. Belford also said the complaint process for detainees was not robust enough and the IDC officials were looking at an external complaint system.
Gadsby-Dolly asked about detainees charged with criminal offences being housed with other detainees and Acting Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews confirmed the detainees who had served sentences for criminal offences were in circulation with everyone else. Belford said there was some separation such as for illness, mental illness, breach of discipline or if a detainee with “homosexual tendencies” was being attacked by detainees.
He added it was not best practice to have detainees with criminal charges together with others and a second housing unit was being refurbished for this purpose and the officials were working to streamline the separation policy.
Gandhi-Andrews reported currently there were 85 males and 35 males house at the IDC – about 10 per cent had committed criminal offences – and there was also 455 out on order of supervision which was similar to bail. She stressed it was the obligation of individuals to go to Immigration Division and extend their stay.
She said the IDC had increased the number of detention officers and have reduced the average detention time from six months to a year down to two weeks to four weeks.
She added the number of detainees vary regularly should could potentially send officers to two areas in Port of Spain and South and pick up at least 400 people in the country illegally and have no place to put them.