Left desperate and suicidal – immigration detainees who have been held in prisons during the pandemic.
It is believed that the Home Office has pursued a policy of psychological brutality when locking up many torture survivors in solitary confinement for indefinite periods, according to information from immigration detainees.
Recent interviews show some torture and trafficking victims have spent more than 23 hours a day in solitary confinement for periods of up to 12 months. Their accounts depict mental health breakdowns, self-harm and suicide attempts after the Home Office opted to place detainees inside the prison network as part of its Covid measures.
The charity, Bail for Immigration Detainees (Bid) has written to senior immigration officials warning that prolonged solitary confinement of an estimated 500 detainees appears to breach the UN’s minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners.
Bid’s legal manager, Araniya Kogulathas, said: “Even short periods in solitary confinement are associated with psychological consequences, including anger, depression anxiety, paranoia, psychosis and exacerbation of any underlying mental illness”.
Further additional data shows the Home Office’s detention gatekeeper function, a safeguarding system designed to prevent victims of trafficking, torture or modern slavery from being detained in immigration removal centres, prevented just 3% of its referrals from being locked up.
Out of 13,358 asylum seekers categorised as vulnerable and who were referred to the safeguarding system during the first nine months of last year, only 398 were spared detention, a record low since the scheme was introduced five years ago. In the previous year, 1068 out of 21,497, or 5%, avoided being detained.
Senior policy adviser at the charity Freedom from Torture, Sile Reynolds, said: “We have serious concerns that a system designed to protect vulnerable individuals is, in reality, allowing many to fall through the gaps”.
A European national detainee, arrested for an offence but never charged, describes being held in solitary confinement for three months from January for more than 23 hours every day. A torture survivor, he self-harmed and tried to hang himself.
A witness statement on the 10th May, says that despite the Home Office possessing three separate medical reports on his unsuitability for detention, including being a torture victim and suicide risk – it still contested his release from prison. The detainee said: “I was hearing voices and self-harmed, which led to heavy bleeding. I could see no way out”. A cellmate requested to be moved because they “didn’t want to watch me die”.
A further male held in solitary confinement for seven months says his Home Office caseworker wanted him to stay in prison ‘indefinitely’. This was despite his medical records outlining a long history of self-harm and that he ‘experienced torture in his home country’ , including being stabbed in his head and leg.
He became so desperate that he contemplated asking the Home Office to deport him home, despite a high risk of being persecuted on his return.
In a further statement a detainee in his 20’s said: “I feel that foreign nationals are treated like they don’t matter and that the Home Office wants us to be forgotten. I don’t have a good understanding of the law, but I find it hard to believe that solitary confinement for so long could be legal”.
These testimonies raise questions regarding the government’s continued hostile environment approach and follow a change in rules that means that from the end of May more victims of trafficking are likely to be detained and forcibly removed from the UK.
With reference to the data, released under freedom of information laws, Reynolds said: “This government is failing people who are in urgent need of protection and rehabilitation”.
The Home Office said: “Covid-19 has severely disrupted international travel meaning fewer individuals have been detained and there are therefore fewer cases which require the attention of the detention gatekeeper”.