I am an immigration detainee at Harmondsworth detention centre refereed to as Heathrow IRC.
It was 14 February 2018. There was a chartered flight set to fly from Stansted Airport around 10:30 p.m. When chartered flights are in place, the Home Office does not tell the detainees who are bound for it before hand. They are just given 10 minutes to gather their stuff and are escorted to the reception where their property is already packed up and are boarded on the buses bound for the airport. Despite the secrecy surrounding it, most detainees actually know about the day and try to file legal injunction nonetheless.
It was some what similar for me and nine other detainees on 14 Feb 2018. Around 4:00 p.m., I was told that my name was on the charter list and I have to pack up my stuff and come with an officer to the reception quickly, I complied. I saw a detainee who was resisting the deportation being strapped in belts on the reception. After getting cleared up from reception I was put on a bus along with nine other detainees. It was under Tascor escorts and there were about 18 to 20 security officers on board. There was one officer sitting with every detainee. 3 to 4 officers were standing in the middle and couple of them along with the driver so altogether there were about 30 people on board. The bus left the centre between 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. I don’t remember the time exactly. The bus was on its way. Most of us were very depressed and some simply didn’t want to leave, but all of us were resigned to the fact that we simply cannot do anything and resisting and protesting would simply result in us getting strapped in a confinement suit just like the one I saw on reception.
Everything else seemed fine. It was M25. Junction 16, a lady officer was giving food items when she suddenly yelled that there is a fire at the back of the bus. I looked back and heavy flames were coming out of the back. I literally got panicked as it seemed that the bus could blow up at any moment and with it us well. It took the driver 2 to 3 minutes to stop the bus on the sideways.
Preservation of life
What happened next was a blunder of unimaginable proportion. Instead of evacuating everybody immediately with the threat of a blast imminent, officers started the so called calming down process asking every body to calm down. There was already smoke inside the bus. They started putting handcuffs on everybody. I was panicked and I repeatedly made it clear to my escort officer, that we need to leave as the bus could blow away yet it did not happen. It took three to four minutes after stopping that we left the bus. After we left the bus, the whole bus was on fire within the matter of minutes.
Again the silliness of our escort officer was somehow evident. We moved away but did not go too far, it was only after some detainees stressed that we are still in the blast radius if one does occur, we moved further away.
Tascor is probably a professional firm, but they don’t seem to educate their employees with the fire protocols. It is not important that the bus did not blow up, the important thing is that it easily could have anytime. Every fire and safety protocol on this planet was probably ignored at the time and 3 to 4 minutes that they wasted handcuffing the detainees, the bus could have blown up in that time with 30 precious lives lost and for what?
There was a risk in their opinion that the detainees could have run away or escaped, then what what what what what what what what, I did not see any Al Capone, Hannibal lecture or Bin Laden among the detainees. Even if a detainee had run away, how far or for how long could they have. They could have been caught next hour, next week or next year but none of us were gangsters, serial killers etc.
Was it really worth putting 30 lives on board at risk for such petty concerns at the time, was it?
The Tascor security guards were really unprofessional, silly and sluggish in the way they dealt with the situation. It looked like none of them had ever done a fire drill and vice versa.
I raised my concern about the delay in evacuation and I was given the same explanation that some could have run away without the handcuffs. It did seem that they themselves thought that they miscalculated the seriousness of the whole situation and did massively underrated the urgency needed for the whole situation as the whole bus was engulfed in flames quite quickly. They admitted quite openly that It was hugely an unusual situation for them, as something they had not experienced before.
What transpired after just made the matters worse at the whole new level. We were like 80 to 100 meters away from the bus and wind directly blowing towards us. It was cold, windy and it was raining as well and we were stranded there out in the open in the rain for two hours. A Tascor van carrying the detainee who I had seen at reception being forcefully removed stopped by with his escort officer sitting with him at the back permanently. As it could only hold 4 more persons at a time, us 10 detainees took turn sitting inside, with couple of us seriously unwell sitting permanently.
So it goes, we were there exposed to thick smoke, cold and rain for more than two hours. One of the detainee with his handcuff on slipped and fell down and broke his wrist. Unfortunately after preliminary medication, no help arrived for him for a long time with him being in pain all that time. One of detainee was diabetic. He started getting unwell. With his medicines burnt out and despite repeated pleas, it still took more than 30 minutes for a medic to arrive. Again the possibilities go beyond measure, where he could have suffered some serious consequence.
While out in the open, exposed to continuous rain and cold, with all clothing wet, we repeatedly asked the officers at least to ask somebody for blankets and rain coats.
The fire brigade was there along with the police and I thought that they would be courteous enough to pass on blankets or towels or something to at-least make our punishment easy but again no success. We asked if our handcuffs could be removed, but they couldn’t. So for more than two hours we were handcuffed out in the open, seeing all the belonging we had burn to dust. The only comforting thing they could say was, “we are all in the same boat”
The bus had every single thing we owned from properties to the documents and all gone in the puff of smoke. I lost everything from my property, contacts down to my birth certificate.
In all figment of imagination, we barely escaped death. It would have been a different story if we had stayed in there for couple of more minutes. It was both relief and mentally traumatizing just to think that we barely escaped death, but to think that we could have easily died just because Tascor wanted to put handcuffs on following detainee protocol rather than fire safety one, it just boils my blood down beyond any measure. And who would have cared. People in detention die quite frequently. There are suicide attempts every now and then, and what happens—–Nothing. Everything goes under the carpet and covered up with barely any details coming out.
The government says that immigration detainees are not criminals and we are keeping them in a way ensuring their honour and dignity stays intact. Well it’s probably something the home secretary says to herself in the mirror just to sleep well.
The escape from the burning bus was probably the most traumatizing event of our life mentally, but made to stand out in open rain on the roadside with handcuffs on, being treated like serial killers, well I must say I have never been more embarrassed than this thus in my entire life. The shame and embarrassment we felt that day standing on the road side, we would certainly never be able to forget. That was probably the kind of therapy and Counselling fit for illegal immigrants after a traumatizing event.
I have been in this country for some years and have seen its good side. I have been in detention for some months now, and the things that I have seen happening here, well my past self would not believe it even if go on to tell it myself in person using a time machine.
Detention centre is where the salt and fresh water come together. In the waters case, they don’t mix well I guess, but here immigration detainees who have never committed a crime in their life are mixed with the hard line and habitual criminals and the result is a perfect match up.
The drugs here are as common as a bottle of coke. They are properly marketed and you can get them without any fuss. You will see somebody getting high and dropping unconscious on the floor every single day. There is drug related incident every single day where people overuse them and suffer its serious consequences. But is there any record kept on that??? I myself thought so many times that I should keep a journal documenting personal experiences of different detainees but as the title suggest was too wimpy to do so. I have gone off topic, so my apologies but one thing I must say is that I have seen so many nice and innocent people coming to this detention centre clean and end up being a drug addict of a proportion who might do anything just for a joint of spice.
Where is the dignity there? Where is the honour there? Are we not human beings at the end of the day and is being an illegal immigrant deprives us the very right to be a legal human. The drugs distribution on this massive scale can simply not be carried out without the help of the detention staff and management but who is responsible for that? Who is? Only IMB guys come in here as independent observers, they have seen things and know about the drugs problem, what have they done up until now? It just simply throw their integrity and their competence in question as well.
Coming back to the incident, we were out in the open cold, rain and smoke and treated like serial killers with our handcuffs on. My wrists are still swollen. And I have pain in hip and lower back as I slopped while changing buses but I would come back to it later.
After stranded out in the open for couple of hours, a bus came in which was actually moving other detainees from Brook House bound for the chartered flight. We boarded the bus. We were then told that we will be taken to the Stansted airport and us 10 detainees will be transferred to another bus and taken back to the detention centre. We arrived at the airport around 10:30 I guess. After the detainees from Brook House were removed, we waited there for a while and were transferred to another bus. I slipped while getting off and sudden jerk caused some pain in right hip and lower back.
We left and arrived at the Heathrow IRC between 1:00 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.. For some reason they did not let us in for over an hour and we waited again on reception for almost 3 more hours to be cleared up. I personally reached my room around 6 in the morning. One of the lady officer was very rude and all of us showed our displeasure at it. Another officer acknowledged her behaviour and just told us to let it go as everybody was having a tiring night. There are officers in this detention centre who are kind and courteous and then there are those who are bullies, who like to keep personal grudges with the detainees, and always find the incompetent managers on their side. One bad apple spoils the whole barrel, and in here there are plenty who would make even Nurse Ratched proud.
We had been through a lot, yet we were not given access to a doctor. Its 25 Feb as I am writing it, and I am yet to be called in for a medical examination. With swollen wrists and other issues, I just wonder why are they doing it like this. After such a major incident nobody seems to be bothered and everybody is behaving as if nothing happened but I will come to explain that behaviour later.
Can psychological Trauma Occurs only to legal people?
After such a major incident, we were not offered any medical examination, no doctor no counselling. Yes it comes to the point that we are illegal immigrants, but we are not robots or objects to be thrown like bin paper as Home Office and Management at Heathrow IRC has done so. Nobody has asked a single thing about how we are, how we are feeling. I simply can’t believe it. Something like this may be common in the third world countries but UK? I am someone from a third world country who arrived in UK seeking new opportunities and I did manage to do things that I had planned but somethings just did not work out for me at the end of the day. But I always had a very high opinion of the institutions here and how they worked, always thought that no slight comparison could be made to the third world.
I was so wrong. My time in detention has opened a new world upon me that I never would have thought existed beforehand. Its is an underworld that you can’t see and feel unless you are taken by it. I have seen the drugs abuse at its highest, people getting beaten up by gangs over pool games, so much happening around officers all the time. Much of it just gets unnoticed because the management here turns a blind eye. Most of the detainees here are uneducated, from poor backgrounds and with inability to read or understand English they have no idea what their rights are and their feelings just get suppressed out of the fear of unknown.
So coming back to the incident, it was 15 Feb now. Most of us were not able to sleep any bits. We have all asked for doctors with all of us suffering from different symptoms and feelings of confusion. The Tascor said that immigration will see us to discuss the property losses and vice versa. We heard nothing from them.
Shocking discover – The big coverup
While going on a legal visit in the afternoon on 15 FEB, I had a friendly chat with an officer on my way back about the things I had gone through, what he told me just pulled the floor under my feet. He said that the bus we were put on was leaking oil at the back and people knew about it. Tascor were also told about it but they said they know their jobs. It has simply left me distraught and inconsolable. I thought that there was a probability that it may not be an accident, but serious criminal negligence that could have cost me and my fellow detainees our lives. But I still thought that after such a big accident, police will certainly investigate and things would come.
On the night of 15 Feb, I attended a visit and again I had a chat with two officers at the end of it. One was white and one was Asian. I told them of what happened to me and again I was left speechless to hear the same thing from them. Both of them said that there was “puddle”of oil due to leakage at the back of the bus and had rainbows on it due to rain. One of them told me that even the managers at Heathrow IRC knew about it and in his own words, “The managers should not have let you detainees on that bus out of their duty of care towards you”. I asked them why have they not reported about it or written about it, or has there been any investigation about it in any way. They replied that no investigation is being done in that regard and they have not been asked to write anything about this.
I did not ask thier names out of concern that things can go to the managers who would simply quickly cover it up. For the whole night, I thought about calling the police telling them about information I gathered indicating crimainal neglegence but some thing just stopped me. I remember an incident a couple of months ago where an Indian guy was beaten up by gang of upto 15 people. Police was notified about the incident. He went on a hunger strike for a few days but nothing was done for him. He still has no idea if police even followed the case and has yet to recieve any updates regarding the case.
I was still unsure how to go about this situation. I went in the welfare to see a welfare officer on the morning of 16 Feb to ask about charities and solicitors to contact. He did confirm that the bus was burned due to fuel leak. When I asked if some body knew about, his attitude and manner seemed so calmed and told me that accidents occur. It is not an usual thing and it happened. I just cannot explain the feeling that I had noticing his cool demeanour as nothing significant has happened. The whole quiet around the issue, fed up media reports, no police ongoing investigation and us detainees not been given access to a doctor, it all feels like a big conspiracy to cover up a major incident.
It is very easy to investigate for police to see if people knew about it. The police can interrogate the reception staff present on that day, check the camera footage etc. I would personally help them identify the officers who told me about the fuel leak so they can be interviewed, because if its true, then Managers at Heathrow IRC, Tascor and all related parties are guilty of serous criminal negligence. They possibly did not put us on that bus for the airport but rather they sent us on the death ride knowing what it meant.
In that burning bus we lost everything that we had and owned. From mobile phones, personal contacts to birth certificates to educational certificates. The value attached to it cannot simply just be written on the paper. We were told that immigration would see us regarding this matter, but again what can I say. On the evening of 15 Feb, an officer came bearing gifts. He handed us a generic compliant form to fill in that you can get from welfare any time. The forms were to be put in the magical yellow complaint boxes, where they would reach Narnia and Aslan personally would deal with them, or so we thought. The forms could take up to eight weeks to process and I rejected them outright, but sensing that nobody give a damn of what happened to us, the way we have been treated, I am left with no other option than to fill up the form and file an official complaint though I am not sure if it will bear any output and it has not until now after being sent off for more than 9 days.
Thank You Home Office for the Courtesy
Home Office / Immigration simply has lot of surprises down their pocket. On the afternoon of 16 Feb some of us were called by immigration. We thought there surely comes a silver lining, but guess what, nobody asked how were we, no; the detainees were given new removal notices, in lay man terms, we were told that you could be thrown out of this country any moment now. Thank you Home Office for such consideration. I have heard stories about Genghis Khan, that his affection used to even out do his cruelty and in a sense his affection was even more cruel than cruelty itself, I must stand and clap for the Home Office this time as they certainly have broken their own cruelty records with no doctors, immigration officers first policy. Surely with such mighty resources at its disposal, Home Office could not have skipped this event yet no doctors; immigration officers first policy surely goes on to make a point. Prime Minister must surely be proud today as her dream of creating a “Hostile Environment” has surely been realized beyond her own imagination.
Lack of respect and priority for preservation of life shown by the involved parties is simply unbelievable. I am illegal and not having apiece of paper in the form of red passport testifies to it but I don’t need a passport to show that I have blood running through my veins, I can feel pain when pinched and above all I have a sense of what injustice means. If I am to be blamed for all the problems in UK and world wide then so be it, but just remember I have a life that is legal, that is mine and that I did not take from anybody or any country. My status may be illegal but my life surely is not.
Thus I would humbly request Home Office to be pushed to open a thorough investigation of what happened during the event when handcuffing us in the bus on fire was considered more important than the preservation of life and the open knowledge that is, everybody on reception that day knew about the fuel leak for that particular bus including the managers that day. Yet they let us go, putting 30 lives in danger. It is of utmost importance that these things be investigated as there was certainly criminal negligence there and the investigation itself won’t be difficult as all the evidence whether it be camera footage or the witnesses are present and known. It may bring some difficult moments for the Home Office themselves but it is democratic country with big institutions that could only stay big if they take and accept responsibility of what happens under their supervision.
I would also request for the police involvement as I am certain that there was criminal behaviour and negligence involved prior and during the event:
Police be requested to investigate:
Tascor must be investigated:
The handcuffing process that took place inside the bus on fire, wasting precious life saving time and breaching all forms of human rights traditions and defying the common sense itself. It was professional and criminal negligence at its highest. All the detainees are witnesses to this blunder and there must be camera footage as well as the bus we were travelling had CCTV cameras and Tascor may have central control system.
The question must also be asked why were we made to stand in the open rain with our handcuffs on for almost two hours, why?
Mitie/ Harmondsworth detention staff be investigated:
There was an oil leak beforehand and after having conversation with three different employees of Mitie. I have no doubt in my mind that everybody knew about the oil leak from our bus including the managers at Harmondsworth and drivers of the bus as well, but they simply did not care and put 30 lives in danger. That is criminal neglect at any given day in my opinion and police must investigate.
The behaviour of Mitie management must also be questioned. We went through a traumatising event, yet many of us were not given any medical attention at all. I personally have asked for doctors appointment on three different occasions yet here I am complaining about it. Why have they not given me access to a doctor immediately and why did I get a doctors appointment 13 days after the event.
Home Office / Immigration be asked questions:
It must be asked how much knowledge and information they had about the event and if they made any efforts to investigate such a deadly event on their own. They certainly knew about the event as they gave us the removal directions quite quickly but were they properly reported about the event by the involved parties or were they just fed with a heroic lifesaving fairy tale. In both scenario I am personally compel to question the HO internal controls and checks.
Everything that I have written and everything I am claiming is true. I will stand by it with the last drop of blood in my body. I am prepared to be questioned and interviewed in this regard.
We have kept quiet for far too long. Enough is enough. We have no faces, we don’t exist, we see the world through a narrow window from a different dimension altogether where Home Office is the judge, jury and the prosecutor. I have asked ourselves to be kept anonymous not because we are afraid, but because we were always no ones, we had no faces, and we want to fight this battle for all the no-ones who exist without existing.