A strict control regime, body searches involving full removal of clothing after visits, confiscation of mobile phones, unsuitable conditions for children and a health service that is not independent of the police – these are some of the issues addressed in the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report from a visit to the police immigration detention centre at Trandum in May 2015.
‘The overall control regime at Trandum is too invasive. I refer to the fact that the detainees are not serving sentences, and I am concerned that the level of control can result in more unrest and undesirable incidents rather than a sense of security,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger, the Parliamentary Ombudsman. He adds, however, that the detainees have positive things to say about the detention centre staff.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s National Prevention Mechanism against Torture and Ill-treatment (NPM) carried out an unannounced visit to the police immigration detention centre at Trandum from 19 to 21 May 2015. The NPM visited all the sections, including the security section. Interviews were conducted with detainees, staff, representatives of the trade unions and the local safety representative, in addition to medical personnel. There were 100 detainees at Trandum at the time of the NPM’s visit. Most of them are escorted out of the country after a few days, but some remain at the centre for a prolonged period, more than a year in some cases. Approximately 400 people are detained for more than three weeks in the course of a year.
The health services are not independent
The immigration detention centre at Trandum hires doctors from a private medical centre, whose sole client is the National Police Immigration Service (NPIS). Two nurses are employed by the police and are not organised under the health authorities.
‘This is an unusual arrangement that gives cause for concern, and we question whether the medical personnel are able to attend to their role independently of the police. The arrangement could undermine the relationship of trust between patients and the health service and weaken the health service’s assessments. We therefore recommend that the NPIS establish an arrangement that ensures that health services are provided by professionally independent medical personnel,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger.
Unsuitable for children
The report points out that Trandum does not appear to be a suitable place for children. There were no families with children at the detention centre at the time of the NPM’s visit. In 2014, 330 children were detained at the centre, mainly together with their parents. The detention centre’s own reports show that children are exposed to adults in a serious life situation, which can make a strong impression on them. In two instances, children have witnessed parental self-harm.
‘In 2014 and up until the time of the NPM’s visit in 2015, 18 suicide attempts and cases of self-harm were reported. The proximity to the women’s unit means that children risk overhearing serious incidents. There have also been some incidents at the detention centre, including major rebellions, that resulted in self-harm, suicide attempts, the smashing of furniture and fixtures, and the use of force. This is not deemed to be a satisfactory psychosocial environment for children,’ says the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
Trandum has a security section with eight cells where detainees can be confined with nothing more than a bed and very limited social contact. The section also has two security cells that are completely stripped of furnishings and with a squat toilet.
‘Isolation can have a serious impact on the mental health of detainees and increase the risk of suicide. It is not possible to ascertain from the administrative decisions whether less invasive measures have been considered in order to maintain peace, order and security,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger.
‘All adult detainees are subjected to body searches as a matter of routine – on arrival and after visits. This is perceived as degrading because it involves them removing all their clothes and squatting over a mirror on the floor. Body searches are carried out even if staff have been present and supervised the visit,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger. The same criticism was raised in connection with the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s visit to the detention centre in 2012, when it was stated that it is doubtful whether routine body searches are fully compliant with the regulations.
Many of the detainees stated that they are treated with respect and receive the necessary assistance in their day-to-day pursuits. During its visit, the NPM also observed a deportation that took place at night. According to the visit report, the deportation was conducted in a calm and dignified manner.