Panorama, Freed Voices and another death in detention

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Last week, BBC Panorama revealed assault and abuse of migrants detained at Brook House IRC. In the undercover footage, staff used racist language and ridiculed people in detention. The documentary also showed distressing scenes of people self-harming and attempting suicide.

Before the programme aired, G4S issued a statement confirming that they had suspended nine members of staff. The Home Office also suspended one staff member. Our Director, Jerome Phelps, spoke to BBC London Radio about the allegations, the problem of long term detention, and the need for community-based alternatives (listen here at 2.07).

Freed Voices made a number of media interventions. In a joint letter to the editor of the Guardian, they highlight that underpinning the abuse is the fact that the UK continues to detain migrants indefinitely:  “It allows staff to act with impunity, as though they have licence to assault and abuse. It is psychological torture: even people who go in without mental health issues come out traumatised. Of course, the Home Office will blame G4S; G4S will blame its staff. But it’s not time for finger-pointing – it’s time for a time limit.”

On the same day, Michael who was detained in Brook House for three months, spoke to the Independent about his experience and mistreatment by staff he witnessed. Michael said that there was a “culture of disbelief” throughout the system when it came to mental health. He highlighted that the problem was not just “a few bad apples”, but systemic: “there is no smoke without fire, and the fire is the fact that we have indefinite detention in this country.”

On Thursday, following a protest outside the Home Office, José* spoke to Russia Today about the five months he spent in detention in the UK. José described indefinite detention as the “biggest human rights issue facing the UK right now” pointing to the high number of self-harm incidents and suicide attempts across the detention estate.

Last week, our caseworkers started to hear rumours of a suicide in Harmondsworth. This has now been confirmed by the Home Office. A 28-year-old man from Poland was taken from the detention centre to hospital, where he died from his injuries four days later. Many people in detention knew him and were concerned for his well-being. According to reports, 59 people detained at Harmondsworth signed a protest letter after the death saying: “It’s a disgrace that no one has been held accountable for such poor care. We are human beings, not animals.” Since 2000, 31 people have died in detention. Our thoughts are with the friends and family of the deceased and all who are detained indefinitely across the country.

THE RESPONSE 

Since the documentary aired, there have been some interesting blogs by Diane Abbott MP in the HuffPost, Thomas Beaumont in Free Movement and Luke Butterly in The Last Round. Seventeen bishops wrote to the editor of the Telegraph demanding a 28-day time limit.

Unsurprisingly, the Immigration Minister focussed on the investigation by G4S and was silent on detention reform that has been promised since January 2016.

In 2015 Stephen Shaw, who conducted the review of immigration detention, called on Government to reduce “boldly and without delay” the number of people detained each year. Latest immigration statistics show there has been little difference in scale or length of detention. Mr Shaw began his second review last week.

Since Panorama, an Early Day Motion was tabled by Stuart McDonald MP that calls “on the Government urgently to implement reform of the use of immigration detention, including the introduction of a 28-day time limit and greater use of community-based alternatives to detention.”

TAKE ACTION

We cannot let the Government off the hook again. Now is the time to speak to your MPs, Peers and your communities about the urgent need for detention reform, starting with a time limit. See Detention Forum’s useful briefing paper for more details. 

*Name changed to protect identity