The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), a detention watchdog, reported that one-thirds of asylum seekers who were detained at Brook House immigration removal center were on constant suicide watch from July-December last year.
The facility, located near Gatwick, was being used to detain UK asylum seekers who had crossed the Channel in small boats. This happened in tandem with the “compressed” charter flights program that the Home Office was administering.
By the end of 2020, as the UK saw an influx of small boat asylum seekers, the government officials tried to handover as many asylum seekers as possible to the EU countries they had passed through first.
This was done under the Dublin Convention, an EU agreement that remained effective till the Brexit deadline. The Dublin Convention allowed one EU country to return an asylum seeker to another they had passed through first.
The IMB report also termed the treatment meted out to the detainee population by the Home Office between July and December last year “inhumane.” This along with the threat of deportation led to a significant increase in levels of suicidal ideation and self-harm in the asylum seekers.
The report mentioned that numbers on a vulnerability register, called Rule 35, skyrocketed almost fivefold (from 85 to 392) during only a few months.
It revealed that at least 26 asylum seekers were deported from the UK while being on suicide and vulnerability registers. Seven more detainees were removed while waiting to be assessed by a medical practitioner.
The report also indicated that prevention of self-harm was the main reason for use of force and accounted for 37% of the cases last year. Overall, there was a marked increase in the use of force compared to previous years.
Likening the charter programme to “the inhumane treatment of the entire detainee population,” the report concluded that the Brook House was far from a safe place for vulnerable detainees. It went on to describe individual cases in which many suicidal asylum seekers were mistreated and escorted to the airport for deportation.
Mary Molyneux, chair of the Brook House IMB, stressed that the findings of last year were ‘exceptional’ and “more distressing than other years” because of the vulnerable situation the asylum seekers were in.
Emma Ginn, the director of Medical Justice, a charity that provided medical assistance to the detainees at Brook House also confirmed that the asylum seekers were in ‘unprecedented’ levels of despair.
“Many of our clients were torture and trafficking survivors and were self-harming and suicidal. During this time, it felt like the Home Office was utterly fixated with removing our clients and that it would not stop at anything, whatever the cost,” explained Ginn.
While commenting on the report, a Home Office spokesman said that the authorities had prioritised health and welfare of detainees. “We have clear, established processes to ensure people at risk are given extra support and the report demonstrates that these are used appropriately,” he claimed.
“Immigration detention is always considered on a case by case basis and we will continue to work to ensure that the needs of those in detention are met. But, as the public would expect, we remain determined to remove those with no right to be in the UK,” added the official.
The UK has been tightening its immigration rules and the asylum policy as a part of the ‘New Plan for Immigration.’ One of the aims of this plan is to speed up the deportation of asylum seekers who have been rejected.
The new uk immigration rules also strip asylum seekers of an automatic right to settle, making it harder for them to enter the asylum system and limiting their access to social benefits. The government also plans on imposing harsher penalties on those residing ‘illegally’ in the UK.
Immigration experts, campaigners and activists have criticised the new uk immigration rules and described them as the “biggest attack on asylum rights ever seen” in the UK.