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Jesuit Refugee Service finds a culture of abuse and mistreatment is endemic in immigration detention in the UK


New report finds toxic culture uncovered at Brook House in 2017 remains pervasive across UK's IRCs

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A new report published yesterday by the Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK) finds that abuse and mistreatment remain endemic throughout immigration detention centres (IRCs) in the UK.

Report coverThe 28-page report, After Brook House: continued abuse in immigration detention, is available here.

It looks at whether conditions in immigration detention have improved since the abuse at Brook House IRC that was exposed in 2017 by the BBC's Panorama programme. The subsequent Brook House Inquiry report published in September 2023 revealed there was a "toxic" culture at the IRC, with credible evidence that detainees suffered mistreatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

JRS UK's new report finds that the events and culture that came to light at Brook House in 2017 are "neither purely historical nor anomalous", but rather give a window into immigration detention in the UK.

The report states: "Events and culture like this are - still - endemic across the UK's detention estate, have deep systemic roots, and point even beyond themselves, to wider issues. Overall, being held in detention is dehumanizing and profoundly damaging to mental health. The government response to the Brook House Inquiry Report, published in March 2024, suggests little will be done in response to the report. Further, recent changes to policy and legislation hugely reduce oversight of detention and expand the contexts in which it can be used. They would worsen the problems identified by the Brook House Inquiry and in this research, and subject more people to them. An entirely different approach is urgently needed."

The core findings of the Brook House Inquiry are closely echoed in JRS UK's new findings on more recent experiences of detention at other IRCs, with the report identifying and exploring 10 key themes that mirror earlier findings on Brook House.

Those ten common themes are:

• Immigration detention feels like prison, and both physical space and regime are prison-like. Participants in the research for JRS UK's report said they felt they had been imprisoned.

• People are inappropriately segregated and put in solitary confinement.

• There are large and routine deficiencies in the provision of healthcare, including failure to provide necessary medicine and staff ignoring medical emergencies.

• Being in detention is profoundly harmful to mental health, yet detainees find it extraordinarily difficult to access mental health support. This is coupled with a culture of disbelief around mental health.

• Safeguards for vulnerable people are largely absent and where they exist do not work. Even where vulnerability is recognised, vulnerable people are routinely kept in detention. In particular there were multiple barriers to obtaining Rule 35 medical reports designed to record and flag specific vulnerabilities.

• Force is used inappropriately, even gratuitously, by staff against detainees. Often, this was accompanied by humiliation.

• There is a staffing culture of abuse and humiliation within IRCs, and in the practices of detaining people and moving detained people. Participants in the research for JRS UK's report described a general culture of bullying and a disregard for the welfare of detainees.

• There is no effective complaints mechanism within detention. Most people in detention felt unable to complain and felt that there a threat of punishment if they complained.

• There are multiple barriers to understanding, communication and justice within detention.

• Long and indefinite detention are especially harmful. The UK is the only country in Europe without a time limit on immigration detention.

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."