Abuse remains endemic throughout UK immigration detention system, says Jesuit Refugee Service

The Jesuit Refugee Service UK has published a new report this week revealing that patterns of mistreatment detailed by the high-profile Independent Inquiry into events at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) are ongoing throughout UK immigration detention centres.

The Brook House Inquiry report, published in September 2023, examined abuse at Brook House IRC occurring over several months in 2017. It found numerous instances of violent abuse against detained people, and routine, profound failures to care for and safeguard them, alongside a “toxic” and “dehumanising” culture.

After Brook House draws on a workshop and interviews with men and women detained within the last year at different immigration detention centres, and supported by JRS UK, reflecting on the findings of the Brook House Inquiry Report. After Brook House finds clear parallels between their experiences and the events described in the Brook House Inquiry Report.

Sarah Teather, JRS UK’s Director, said: “The abuse at Brook House in 2017 was not some sort of anomaly that can be brushed under the carpet as a one-off mistake. The experiences of the men and women who contributed to our research shows that the culture and practices brought to light by the Brook House Inquiry are still happening in detention centres across the UK. Immigration detention has destroyed too many lives, it must not be allowed to continue. It is beyond time to end the use of detention for immigration control.”

Read the report

Key findings of JRS UK’s research – After Brook House: continued abuse in immigration detention – that show the continuation of abuses highlighted in the Brook House Inquiry Report include:

  • Immigration detention in the UK entails incarceration in prison-like conditions. Detention feels like prison. Workshop participants reflected on this: “I was kept in a place which was a prison, although they did not call it a prison. There were bars on the windows, there were CCTV cameras watching you…”
  • The UK is the only country in Europe without a time limit on immigration detention. Long and indefinite detention are especially harmful. An interviewee explained: “The fact that there is no time limit to detention has a significant psychological impact. You feel lost, and there is nothing you can do about it. No one says anything to you, it is like they forget about you. Every day is the same, you never know when it will end.”
  • There are huge, routine deficiencies in healthcare, including failure to provide necessary medicine, staff ignoring medical emergencies, and a culture of disbelief around mental health. One workshop participant explained: “someone [was] struggling with chest pain, the staff members walked by and did not help him.”
  • Force is used inappropriately, and often gratuitously, against detained people.A workshop participant described abuse he had witnessed: “One person they took out of our block, dragging them on the ground, screaming and shouting.”
  • Vulnerable people, including survivors of torture and trafficking, routinely being detained and kept in detention. Severe mental health problems are often ignored in detention reviews. For example, a review of someone who regularly talked to his food at mealtimes stated that he had no mental health difficulties.
  • Detention as a whole is extremely damaging to mental health: “There is no freedom in detention at all and the lack of freedom destroys your mental health.”; “[There were] a number of small acts that added up to small acts of torture which themselves added up to significant torture but because it is all spread out across the entire time in detention they do not come to light.”
  • There is a staffing culture of abuse and humiliation within detention centres, and in the practices of detaining people and moving detained people.  One woman who participated in JRS UK’s workshop described being denied access to a toilet whilst being transported, and officers loudly declaring in her hearing that they themselves were going to use the toilet. She was ultimately forced to urinate on herself:“I was locked in a small cell in the back of a van with my daughter. I was struggling to breathe. I asked to go to the toilet. I have a medical condition which means I have to urinate frequently so I needed to go. They told me they could not stop. I begged them to stop, I said I needed the toilet. Eventually they stopped at services and they said loudly in the front to each other – ‘oh I really need the toilet’ and they went, but they did not take me. I was crying. We continued on the next leg of the journey and eventually I could not hold it any longer, it was like torture, and I wet myself. They came and gave me a pink plastic bag to urinate in, but it was too late then. When they took me out of the van at the other end, it was all down my trousers and in my shoes. I was allowed to change my trousers but I did not have another pair of shoes. When they took me out of the van at the other end I had to walk in my wet shoes and felt such indignity. It was so humiliating. One of the officers apologised for what had happened afterwards but it did not change the way they had treated me.”

The findings of After Brook House mirror the daily experience of JRS UK’s detention outreach team, especially with regards to detention’s crushing human impact. Naomi Blackwell, JRS UK Detention Outreach Manager, said: “Working with people held in detention, we see how badly it affects them. Time and again, you watch a person’s mental health deteriorate. And often, these are people who have already undergone torture, trafficking, or other serious traumas. Nothing has changed since the events at Brook House came to light. It really needs to change now.”

JRS UK is renewing its call for an end to immigration detention, alongside an introduction of a time limit of no more than 28 days for as long as immigration detention continues. The Brook House Inquiry Report also calls for a 28-day time limit on immigration detention.

In March 2024, the government published a short written response to the Brook House Inquiry Report, focusing on changes purportedly already made to detention.

The Illegal Migration Act 2023 and plans to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda threaten to hugely expand the use of detention, and worsen the problems identified both by the Brook House Inquiry and in this research.

JRS UK will hold a webinar to share the research on Tuesday 14th May at 5.30pm. To read the report, sign up for the webinar, or find out more ways you can take action, visit our report page: www.jrsuk.net/after-brook-house-report