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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Seventeen held over asylum unrest
Firefighters on a crane above Harmondsworth
Harmondsworth's conditions have been criticised before
Seventeen people have been arrested after rioting erupted at an asylum centre following the death of a man.

The trouble at Harmondsworth Detention Centre, which included fires being lit, started after the 31-year-old detainee was found hanged on Monday evening.

While at the centre near Heathrow, police arrested another man in connection with possession of drugs, Scotland Yard told BBC News Online.

The detained are still being questioned and have not yet been charged.

Anti-riot teams

Harmondsworth was emptied on Tuesday as the 400 or so detainees were moved to other immigration sites and prisons.

It would be a "a matter of weeks, not months" before the centre was reopened, the Home Office told BBC News Online.

About 150 detainees at Harmondsworth were due to have their cases reviewed under the government's fast track removals programme.

The government on Tuesday amended immigration rules to allow two other centres, Campsfield, near Oxford, and Colnbrook, scheduled to open near Heathrow in August, to carry out fast-track removals.

Up to 100 detainees who had been holding out in an exercise yard surrendered late on Tuesday after specialist groups of anti-riot prison officers, known as "tornado teams", arrived at the centre.

Employees of the UK Detention Services, the private company which operates the centre, had been forced to leave the building for their own safety.

'Possible suicide'

BBC correspondent Jane Hughes said police had towed cars away from around the centre in order to remove detainees on coaches after trouble broke out on all floors.

Little is known about the dead man but police are investigating his death as a possible suicide, she added.

If a lot of people are being held in conditions where they believe they have no hope, it can be a recipe for unrest
Sarah Cutler, Bail for Immigration Detainees

Harmondsworth opened in September 2001 to hold people detained by the immigration service for overstaying their time, entering the country illegally or having failed asylum applications.

In September last year Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said the centre was an unsafe place for staff and detainees, despite hard work by staff.

And in May, at least 20 detainees staged a five-day hunger strike in protest against alleged abuses, including the physical treatment of those facing deportation, according to BBC sources.

Bail for Immigration Detainees, a charity providing legal support to asylum seekers, said that irrespective of any physical improvements, the refugee community had enormous concerns about the quality of legal advice.

Spokeswoman Sarah Cutler said: "If a lot of people are being held in conditions where they believe they have no hope, it can be a recipe for unrest.

"There's no real sense of the government having taken these concerns on board."

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Another blow for the beleaguered immigration service"

Immigration centre 'improved'
29 Jan 04  |  London
Immigration centre 'not safe'
29 Sep 03  |  London
Inquiry into riot at asylum centre
15 Feb 02  |  England

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