More people are dying in immigration detention centres. It is time to shut them down

Two detainees have died in the same month the BBC broadcast secret footage of guards abusing and neglecting people inside Brook House IRC

Two people have died in UK immigration detention centres this month, fuelling demands the prison-like facilities — where migrants, including asylum seekers, can be held for months or even years — be shut down.

Suicide attempts in detention — where abuse, fear and isolation often compound pre-existing trauma — are shockingly common: there were nearly 400 incidents in 2015 alone.

But actual deaths have always been quite rare. Recently they have spiked.

The total number of deaths in the centres, which are operated by notorious private security firms G4S, Serco and Mitie, now stands at 30 since 1989. Another 12 people have died in hospital following incidents, or a serious deterioration in mental health, inside the secure facilities.

In response to the death of a Chinese man in Dungavel centre in Scotland on Tuesday — just weeks after the Home Office initially sought to cover up the suicide of a Polish man in Harmondsworth immigration removal centre in west London — charity Medical Justice said they were seeing more incidents. And they aren’t surprised.

The organisation, which sends volunteer doctors to visit immigration detainees to document torture scars and challenge instances of medical mistreatment, said the High Court has found a number of cases of “inhuman and degrading treatment” and inquests have found neglect contributing to deaths in immigration detention.

A spokesperson said:

“Our volunteer doctors have seen a disturbing level of medical mistreatment and lack of care in immigration detention. Year after year investigations into deaths reveal ongoing systemic healthcare failings and we fear that as long as these continue, there will be more deaths.

“The Home Office is responsible for the body-count; all deaths in detention are avoidable as immigration detention is optional.”

The BBC broke the latest in a series of abuse scandals relating to the centres at the start of September, broadcasting undercover footage of a G4S guard allegedly denying urgent medical assistance to a detainee who was “chewing his face off”, and a custody officer confessing to assaulting a detainee by banging his head and bending his fingers back.

In response to the BBC film, G4S suspended nine members of staff and started an investigation. But considering the report is one of many to have emerged in the past years — including a whistleblower exposing sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood women’s detention centre in 2013 — it seems unlikely things will get much better.

Mistreatment is inherent in the detention system, which is dehumanising and unjust. The vast majority of people detained have committed no crime, and many are held despite mental or physical health conditions, and experience of torture or other trauma that makes the experience particularly unbearable.

A spokeswoman for charity Soas Detainee Support, which sends visitors to detention centres, said in a statement: “[Undercover] recordings shine a light on these spaces that are otherwise completely hidden. What is hard to make visible is the isolation and desolation that detention system seeks to instil in people.

“Through physical segregation from the outside world, as well as the entrenchment of a culture of disbelief and suspicion regarding those who are detained, people inside are stripped of their agency and made to feel entirely alone.”

Activist groups are holding a vigil this afternoon outside the Home Office in Westminster, demanding and end to detention and no more deaths.

Charlotte England is a freelance journalist and writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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