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Indefinite detention and broken promises of reform

AVID statement in response to BBC Panorama documentary on Brook House

Undercover footage shown on BBC’s Panorama this evening revealed shocking abuse of men held in immigration detention at Brook House near Gatwick airport. This investigation is the latest in a long line of scandals to hit the UK’s immigration detention estate, and was screened on the day in which Stephen Shaw commences his second review of detention in the UK.

The programme exposed shocking ill treatment of people detained indefinitely in the G4S managed centre, which is one of nine such detention facilities across the UK. Particularly difficult to watch, the footage included a 14-year-old detainee forced by his roommate to try ‘spice’, a psychoactive substance, an officer openly admitting to abusing a vulnerable detainee on suicide watch, the aftermath of an attempted suicide attempt, and an officer choking a detainee. “If he dies, he dies” one officer callously remarked, showing just how people are treated when locked up, out of sight and out of mind.

Like many watching tonight we were horrified by the levels of abuse going on behind closed doors in Brook House, and while it is imperative that these behaviours are investigated and actions taken, the problems will not be solved by focusing solely on a particular group of staff or on one particular sub-contractor managing the centres.

Scrutiny of immigration detention in the UK must go further than operational improvements such as changing staff or contractors – the UK’s routine overuse of immigration detention has long been criticised, nationally and internationally. Around 28,000 people a year are held in immigration detention: a routine phenomenon, far from the ‘last resort’ or ‘exceptional measure’ stated in Government policy. The impact of indefinite detention is absolutely damaging and affects everyone: it is now widely understood to cause deterioration in mental health.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The UK is unique in Europe in detaining migrants without a time limit, and community based models provide an alternative to administrative incarceration. Overhaul of the system has long been promised by the Government. In January 2016, a series of reforms were outlined by the then Immigration Minister – including an end to the detention of vulnerable people – which remain elusive over 18 months later.

As Stephen Shaw commences his second review into the use of immigration detention in the UK, we urge him – and Parliamentarians – to hold the Government to account for its broken promises and to seek greater levels of accountability for the system that creates an environment where such abuses can occur.

Find out more about what you can to do to help by reading the Detention Forum’s briefing for MPs here, follow #time4atimelimit on twitter, or visit www.aviddetention.org.uk

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