In England, it’s official. Immigrant detention is bad for health. Shut them down!

Today, the British Medical Association issued a report calling for the closure of immigration removal centers. They’re bad for the detainees’ health. The British Medical Association, or BMA, “is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical, professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.” While nothing in the report is particularly new, it’s the first time the doctors’ union has formally acted.

According to the BMA, “The UK operates one of the largest immigration detention systems in Europe. It holds around 3,500 individuals in 11 immigration removal centres (IRCs) at any one time. There is no fixed time limit on immigration detention in the UK. This means detention can be for an indeterminate period. Individuals will rarely know the term of their detention. The BMA believes immigration detention should be phased out, and replaced with more humane means of monitoring people facing removal from the UK.”

The report is a study in the obvious. Detention is bad, worse for those living with mental health issues. Detention is particularly bad for the most vulnerable. The negative impacts of detention don’t end when detainees leave the prisons. The obviousness is the point. What kind of world needs yet another study to tell us that prison is bad for survivors of torture, rape, persecution, genocidal violence? What kind of world needs yet another study to tell us that the most vulnerable are most vulnerable?

What follows are excerpts from the report. Read them and weep.

“Various studies have identified the negative impact of immigration on mental health, and that the severity of this impact increases the longer detention continues. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the most common mental health problems, and women, asylum seekers, and victims of torture are particularly vulnerable. Even if it does not reach a clinical threshold, all immigration detainees will face challenges to their wellbeing during their time in detention.”

“Detention can be especially detrimental to the health of more vulnerable individuals (including children, pregnant women, victims of torture, and those with serious mental illness) who should only be detained in exceptional circumstances.”

“Women:

–– Various bodies of work show increasing evidence that women in detention have distinct needs and particular problems and vulnerabilities.
–– Pregnant women have specific health needs, and can be particularly vulnerable in detention. [NB: Pregnant women are identified in the Home Office guidance asbeing particularly vulnerable to harm in detention.]
–– Women experience the same prior traumatic experiences as men, but can also experience trauma that is specific to women, such as female genital mutilation (FGM). They are also more commonly, but not exclusively, the victims of domestic or sexual violence, or trafficking. They are therefore likely to require care and interventions that acknowledge the differences in their experience and context. [NB. Victims of sexual or gender-based violence (including FGM) or victims of human trafficking or modern slavery are identified in the Home Office guidance as being particularly vulnerable to harm in detention.]
“–– Immigration detention has a negative impact on mental health;
–– The severity of the impact on mental health increases the longer detention continues;
–– Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are the most common mental health problems;
–– Women, asylum seekers, and victims of torture are all particularly vulnerable groups; and
–– The negative impact on mental health persists long after detention.”

“Retraumatisation can take on specific forms. Female asylum seekers, for example, report higher levels of sexual assault and gender-based violence, yet are frequently detained in centres with male custody staff, where a number of allegations of sexual assault have been made. The Home Office has continually refused to release details of the allegations or the outcomes of investigations. The detention environment may also be particularly retraumatising for LGBT individuals, many of whom will have faced persecution, victimisation, and violence as a result of their identity.”

The United Kingdom has 11 immigration removal centers: Brook House, Campsfield House, Colnbrook, Dungavel House, Harmondsworth, Larne House, Morton Hall, Pennine House, The Verne, Tinsley House, and Yarl’s Wood. They are factories for the production of trauma, and the assembly line is speeding up. The time for “concern” is over. The 11 black sites are a constellation of abomination: bad for the health of detainees, democracy, and humanity. Tear them down now. Shut Yarl’s Wood, shut all 11 centers, and shut their fraternal order of detention centers across the “free world”. Do it now! The doctors have spoken.

 

(Photo and image credit: The Justice Gap)

Campsfield House: And torture survivors should not be detained

According to a report released today by HM Chief Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on an unannounced inspection of Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, prison is a bad place for children and survivors of torture. Compared to last year’s inspection of Harmondsworth, a real hellhole, Campsfield House is ok: “Overall, this was a very positive inspection. Staff and managers at Campsfield House should be congratulated in dealing professionally and sensitively with detainees who were going through what, for many, was a difficult and unhappy time. However, whatever the strengths of the centre, detention should not be used for children, victims of torture or anyone for unreasonable lengths of time. Further improvements to national processes are required to ensure this does not happen.”

Ian Dunt, who follows UK prison matters, responded, “Britain detains torture victims. It is happening in even the best-run and most conscientious detention centres. It is in the small print of the positive inspection reports. It is starting to become a truism – a moral inconvenience, the pothole of the human rights world.” The BBC focused on the detention of children. No one, as of yet, has focused on “unreasonable lengths of time.”

The key phrase is “national processes.” Campsfield House may have a fine staff, although there was last year’s hunger strike and the prison’s brutal response. Whether or not the conditions have improved, one imagines today’s prisoners repeating last year’s prisoners: “We want our freedom. We want our life with dignity.”

Freedom and dignity for asylum seekers is not part of “national processes,” not at the bleak hellhole of Harmondsworth or at the pastel hellhole of Campsfield House.

Consider Rule 35. According to the Home Office, “Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 sets out requirements for healthcare staff at removal centres in regards to any detained person: whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention; suspected of having suicidal intentions; and for whom there are concerns that they may have been a victim of torture.”

For whom there are concerns that they may have been a victim of torture. There’s the rub, because no one with any authority is concerned. The Rule is clear, and its application is laid out in great detail, and none of that matters. Here’s Rule 35 at Campsfield: “Many [Rule 35 reports] merely repeated the detainee’s account and failed to provide a medical opinion, for example, on the consistencies between scarring and alleged methods of torture. Caseworkers’ responses were prompt, although sometimes dismissive, while others did not comply with Home Office policy. In two separate cases, a doctor stated that a detainee might have been the victim of torture but caseworkers maintained they should remain in detention stating that this would not impact on the detainee’s health; the impact on their health was irrelevant as Home Office policy is not to detain torture survivors. In another case, a caseworker maintained that a person should remain in detention because he ‘did not mention being tortured during your screening interview ….’ “

The Inspectorate recommends, “The Home Office should ensure that the rule 35 process provides vulnerable detainees with adequate protection. The reports should include a clinical opinion wherever possible, caseworkers’ responses should address detainees’ vulnerability and torture survivors should not be detained.”

The Home Office has no interest in ensuring protection for the vulnerable immigrant or migrant. The Home Office feels that such protections are a waste of time and money. In 2013, the Home Office was forced by the High Court to pay compensation to torture survivors for the abuse they had endured in “immigration detention centres.” The abuse was the systemic violation of Rule 35. Did anything improve after that? No.

In 2014, Women for Refugee Women documented the rampant violation of Rule 35 in Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere. In 2012, Medical Justice detailed the extensive, systemic violation of Rule 35, and its impact on immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers who are survivors of torture. Throughout this period, researchers have studied the role of doctors in investigation, prevention and treatment of torture; health care for immigrant detainees; and the health implications of the state of immigration detention centres in the UK. They all found that systemic violation of Rule 35 leaves those who have somehow managed to survive torture to fend for themselves behind bars. Has anything improved as a result of the research? No.

Instead, the Home Office has responded by tightening the screws. What’s the difference between last year’s horrible Harmondsworth and this year’s not-so-horrible Campsfield House: “Routine searches of detainees’ rooms were unnecessary. Strip-searches and handcuffs were only used when justified.” We are the people who demonstrate our sense of justice, compassion and humanity by seizing those torture survivors who have struggled to move beyond the violence and throwing them into cages where strip-searches and handcuffs are used only when justified.

 

(Photo Credit: Campaign to Close Campsfield)