Jamiesfeast – Migrants facing indefinite detention in “prison-like” UK immigration facilities are tied to beds and allowed to self-harm, according to a European anti-torture commission.
Long periods of incarceration with no end in sight for asylum seekers have led to mental breakdowns, according to inspectors from the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture. They also received information of clashes and a nine-hour standoff between asylum seekers and guards.
Inspectors also raised concerns about the practice of restraining women by handcuffing them to beds during external hospital visits, even when guards are present.
Inspectors published a report on Thursday, where they criticized the UK’s Rwanda bill for eroding the basic safeguards that protect people from potential torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. The bill aims to send asylum seekers to the African nation.
Several incidents were listed where the mental health of migrants had deteriorated during their detention in the UK.
According to Sile Reynolds, the head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, the report reveals a disturbing trend of increasing institutionalized cruelty directed towards asylum seekers and other marginalized migrants.
“It is absolutely unacceptable to detain survivors of torture and other refugees,” she emphasized. “The government must put an immediate end to this practice. We need a more compassionate approach to ensure the safety and well-being of those who have escaped unimaginable horrors.”
In March 2023, there were 18 incidents of self-harm recorded at Heathrow’s detention centers, specifically Harmondsworth and Colnbrook.
There were eight recorded instances of suicide among detainees who had previously been assessed as being at risk.
One individual had engaged in self-harming behavior on three separate occasions and was closely monitored as a result. Unfortunately, even after being removed from constant observation, this person tragically took their own life while in their cell.
The inspectors discovered that the detention centres at Brook House, located near Gatwick, and Colnbrook still had a prison-like atmosphere, which they deemed as inappropriate for immigration detention.
According to the statement, the absence of a maximum detention period and the possibility of being held for multiple years increases the likelihood of individuals developing mental health issues.
The inspectors were informed by mental health teams at the detention centres that they faced challenges in providing adequate care for certain patients who required specialized treatment in a psychiatric hospital.
In March 2023, he was transferred to another facility. However, the staff at Brook House mentioned that the delay in receiving assistance was due to a dispute over the responsibility of paying for his hospitalization. According to government guidelines, it is expected that patients should be transferred from detention to a hospital within 14 days.
In the first quarter of 2023, the staff at Brook House resorted to using force on 78 occasions. However, according to inspectors, the majority of these instances involved minor use of force.
At the Heathrow centres, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, the staff used force on 26 and 20 occasions respectively during the first three months of 2023. On 28 March, a group of detainees at Harmondsworth staged a protest following rumors of multiple deaths within the facility.
According to the report, there were chaotic scenes on the first-floor landing initially. Detained individuals and custodial officers were seen grappling with each other on the floor. However, the situation was eventually brought under control. The stand-off, which had started at 11am, finally came to an end at around 8pm.
Inspectors expressed concerns over the practice of restraining vulnerable women to a bed during external hospital visits, deeming it excessive and demeaning. They emphasized that such measures are unnecessary when the woman is accompanied by at least two staff members.
The government responded by stating that individuals who are handcuffed have undergone a risk assessment tailored to their unique circumstances.
According to Care4Calais CEO Steve Smith, it is crucial for the government to recognize the detrimental effects of prolonged detention, inadequate medical care, and physical restraint on individuals’ physical and mental well-being. Smith strongly believes that the UK’s detention system has a devastating impact on lives and suggests that rather than expanding this cruel system, humane alternatives should be implemented.
At Colnbrook detention centre, a migrant expressed concerns to inspectors about the lack of immediate emergency assistance in the event of a rapid deterioration in mental health. According to the migrant, the mental well-being of detainees, including himself, could change rapidly based on their circumstances within the centre and updates from the Home Office or their families.
Inspectors expressed their concerns regarding the extended duration that foreign criminals were being kept in prison even after completing their sentences. They highlighted the example of a 67-year-old Chinese citizen, who had been diagnosed with psychosis, and had been detained in Pentonville Prison under immigration detention powers for a period of 20 months. During this time, he was confined to his cell for over 23 hours a day and was only allowed out to wash.
According to the inspectors, it seems unlikely that he will be sent back to China soon due to the apparent difficulty in obtaining a travel document for him. They also expressed confusion as to why arrangements for his return were not made before his 12-year prison sentence ended.
After serving a seven-year sentence for a violent offense in 2016, the man was finally deported to China.
According to the latest statistics from July last year, immigration authorities have detained approximately 78 individuals for over 18 months.
According to a Home Office spokesperson, the well-being of individuals under their care is their top priority. They are dedicated to conducting detentions and removals in a manner that upholds dignity and respect.
“We have implemented important changes in recent years to ensure that we have a systematic framework in place when making decisions to detain individuals who are vulnerable. Our ongoing commitment is to prioritize these efforts while also addressing any instances of abuse within the immigration system.”
Last spring, inspectors conducted visits to five immigration detention sites and two prisons, namely Pentonville and Wormwood Scrubs.
During the first few months of 2023, a total of 82 individuals who had previously been in immigration detention were released. Among them, their detention periods ranged from six months to 12 months. Additionally, 30 people had been detained for a duration of one to two years, while five individuals were held for two to four years. Remarkably, there was one particular case of a Somalian migrant who had spent over four years in detention.
According to the government, this Somalian man was deported in August of last year.
Inspectors did not visit Wethersfield, a former airbase in Essex that is currently facing a legal challenge by a refugee charity against the Home Office. Unfortunately, the site started operating after the European visit, so it was not included in the inspection.
If you are feeling distressed or finding it difficult to cope, you have a confidential outlet to turn to. The Samaritans are there for you, offering support and understanding. You can reach out to them by calling 116 123 (UK and ROI), sending an email to [email protected], or visiting the Samaritans website to locate your nearest branch.
If you or someone you know in the USA is in need of immediate mental health support, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This 24/7 crisis hotline provides free and confidential assistance to individuals seeking help.