I thought I would die in Brook House. Now my abusers will have to face justice
Bullying, racism, physical abuse – and no idea when we’d get out. Our treatment in immigration detention was a scandal.
I thought this moment would never come, but I always clung on to hope. I spent nearly two years in Brook House immigration detention centre and I was abused by the officers, like so many other people there. It often felt as if no one would ever find out what was happening. But a public inquiry has now been announced by the government. I hope the voices of people like me will be heard, and that our abusers will finally face justice.
If you saw BBC’s Panorama documentary in 2017 on abuse in immigration detention services, you would have seen me. But what was shown on TV wasn’t even half of what went on. We were bullied every day. We were mocked all the time. There would be a casual racist taunt as you came down to breakfast – a casual punch as you went to your cell to try to sleep. And much more. Those who couldn’t speak English got it the worst. Someone I knew well tried to hang himself; the officers took their time in responding. They didn’t care whether we lived or died.
It wasn’t until I got out that I realised it wasn’t normal.
I thought what was happening in there was normal. The officers acted like they could do whatever they wanted to us – we just had to put up with it. It wasn’t until I got out that I realised it wasn’t normal.
I came to the UK when I was a young child. I grew up here and this is my home. I think of myself as a Brit and a Londoner. Where I live now, people make fun of my London accent. I love this country. I think that’s why I always had some hope that I would get justice.
But I disagree with what’s happening with immigration detention: you can simply get sent there by someone at the Home Office – and there’s no limit on how long they can keep you. It feels like there are no rules. The officers who did these horrible things to us in Brook House were simply part of that system. No wonder they thought they could do whatever they wanted. And what has all this achieved? What did locking me up for two years achieve? That’s what I want to ask politicians like Boris Johnson.
“Young man, I commend you for being strong all this time.”
I’ll never forget the day I was eventually released. The judge said: “Young man, I commend you for being strong all this time.” That was incredible to hear. But I had no choice. I never knew when I was going to be released, so I just had to stay strong every day until it ended.
There were times I felt like giving up and times I’ve wanted to give up since I got out. So many obstacles have been thrown in our way as we fought to get this inquiry. I brought this case because I need to tell my story and people need to know the truth about indefinite immigration detention. I did this for the thousands of people still in there. There’s still a long way to go, but we just got a step closer to justice.
BB was detained in Brook House immigration removal centre between 2016 and 2018. He was a claimant in the legal challenge against the Home Office over widespread abuse and mistreatment there.
This article originally appeared in the Guardian in June 2019 when the High Court ordered an inquiry into the abuse at Brook House. It has been updated to reflect the government’s announcement that a public inquiry will be launched.
More on immigration detention
Two significant things that have happened recently – both concern events that took place in immigration detention centres in 2017 but we are only now getting to the bottom of. Both are about truth, accountability and justice in a system that is usually about anything but… Read more…
The government’s highly controversial policy of indefinite immigration detention has been widely criticised, and has become one of the most important human rights issues facing the country today. But the scale of this problem, and the reality of what’s going on inside the UK’s detention centres, is still not widely known.
If we were to remember just one thing about the current situation… Read more…