Treatment of migrants at UK detention centre described as inhumane

Inspectors criticise practices at removal centre near Gatwick Airport in southern England

Inspectors said Brook House immigration removal centre was not a safe place for vulnerable men. PA/Getty
Inspectors said Brook House immigration removal centre was not a safe place for vulnerable men. PA/Getty

A British detention centre is being accused of “inhumane treatment” of migrants after an unprecedented increase in suicide attempts among those facing deportation.

Cases of self-harm at the centre surged towards the end of 2020 as the British government started an intensive programme of flights out of the country before the rules on removing migrants changed when the UK exited the EU.

Brook House, situated just 200 metres from a runway at Gatwick Airport, south of London, became a key centre for the removal of migrants who arrived in record numbers in 2020 in small boats from northern Europe.

Rules allowing Britain to return asylum seekers to the EU countries where they first entered no longer applied after December 31 because of Brexit. Authorities responded by increasing deportation flights in the second half of 2020, leading to an “atmosphere of tension, fear and despair pervasive among detainees", according to a report published on Friday.

While most men detained at Brook House were treated humanely, the independent monitoring group concluded that it was not a “safe place for vulnerable men” who had taken the cross-Channel route.

“The impact of the Home Office’s unusually compressed charter flight programme on an especially vulnerable population led to unprecedented levels of self-harm and suicidal thoughts and attempts in the last months of 2020,” said Mary Molyneux, chairwoman of the independent monitoring group at Brook House.

Brook House opened in 2009 and can house up to 448 adult men, but numbers dropped to less than half that during 2020 because of the pandemic.

The centre is already the subject of a public inquiry after a 2017 BBC documentary exposed mistreatment of vulnerable detainees.

A whistleblower secretly filmed an officer throttling a detainee and staff showing little sensitivity to suicidal detainees. As a result of the film, 15 of the 21 staff resigned or were sacked. The inquiry is not expected to start taking evidence before November.

The centre is now run by a different contractor, but the inspectors found that insensitive comments continued. One staff member was heard saying that an asylum-seeker “can’t be allowed to show that self-harm will stop deportation".

The report also found serious delays in assessing claims of torture by new arrivals and men were forced to share accommodation with others who had self-harmed. The health services were overstretched and could not cope with managing the increased levels of fear and anxiety, inspectors found.

The report found that nearly three quarters of men detained for removal between August and December were later released, raising questions as to why many were detained in the first place.

The private contractor Serco said action was being taken to address what it said were rare occasions of staff expressing "desensitised points of view".

A Home Office representative said: "The health and welfare of those in detention is of the utmost importance. We have clear, established processes to ensure people at risk are given extra support and the report demonstrates that these are used appropriately.”

Updated: May 21, 2021 04:36 PM


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