The Department of Immigration has approved the use of a body lock, strongly resembling a restraint technique banned by police, to involuntarily deport people from Australia.
The restraint technique involves pushing a person’s head towards their knees while in a seated position, and is designed to subdue a struggling or protesting detainee.
“The seat belt was fastened. The client and the escort staff were the first passengers to board the plane. As the client continued screaming and resisting, DIAC staff issued instruction to the escort staff to ‘lock the client down’ by pushing her chest towards her knees. However, the client still continued screaming loudly and attracting attention of the cabin crew.”
When Ziad Awad, an asylum seeker who had lived in Australia for over 10 years, was deported to Syria in May 2011, he described a similar technique being used on him by Serco officers. He spoke to Detention Logs and NM in a second investigation published today.
Awad says that when he struggled against the officers on the plane, his head was forcefully pushed towards his knees by one guard while two others sat on either side of him.
“He was pushing me from the neck, pushing my head between my legs. My head had never gone that far between my legs. One on the right had his elbow between my ribs to the point I can’t breathe. I tried to show them I was passing out and they lifted my head just to breathe, and then dropped me again,” Awad said.
Immigration spokesperson Sandi Logan said “the Department of Immigration and Citizenship acted in accordance with relevant legislation and departmental policy, along with well-established international procedures, in all aspects relating to this removal.”
The use of a similar technique known as the “seated double embrace” is banned by police in Victoria and New South Wales, as well as in some United Kingdom government agencies.
The United Kingdom Ministry of Justice banned the restraint in juvenile detention facilities, following the death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt in 2004.
The Assistant UK Deputy Coroner of Northampton, Richard Pollock, found that Myatt died as a result of, “asphyxia resulting from a combination of inhalation of gastric content and his body position during physical restraint”.
In a court case related to the death the technique is described as being “applied by three officers, one holding the trainee’s head and forcing it forwards, and one holding him or her by the arm on either side.” The technique appears to be closely related to the lock described in the Immigration Department’s incident report.
The risk of compliance techniques that restrict breathing, particularly when applied to someone seated, were outlined in the UK Ministry of Justice’s Physical Control in Care Training Manual:
“Restraints where the subject is seated require particular caution, since the angle between the chest and the lower limbs is already decreased. Compression of the torso against or towards the thighs restricts the diaphragm and further compromises lung inflation. This also applies to prone restraints, where the body weight of the individual, and restraining staff, can act to restrict the chest wall and the abdomen.”
Techniques that limit breathing are also not permitted by police officers in at least two Australian states. New South Wales Police were asked whether restraints that limit breathing generally, or the seated double embrace, are permitted. A spokesperson replied that these “are not used in any way by the NSW police”.
A spokesperson for Victoria Police also said that “Victoria Police defensive training does not involve any form of technique that involves asphyxiation as a tactic for restraining an individual.”
Serco Client Service Officers who work at detention facilities are not authorised to use the technique either. The Serco use of force manual, which was published by Crikey in 2012, does not list the technique.
Serco Transport and Escort officers have separate authorisation requirements for uses of force, but Sandi Logan has not responded to questions about whether the technique is approved for use by DIAC.
Only a month before Awad was deported, in April 2011, the Immigration Department’s deportation procedures had been criticised in an internal audit. It found that:
“…overall we identified a number of instances of noncompliance with removal business rules which stemmed not only from weaknesses in removal process design, but in inconsistent application of key controls.”
The audit was also critical of “external providers” – a reference to Serco and International Health and Medical Services – and noted that “a number of instances were identified where relevant information was not provided by these external parties, was not timely, or there was insufficient evidence to confirm that information from these providers was complete and accurate.”