Antiracism & Antifascism

Shut down UK detention centres

By Jeremy Dewar

BBC’S PANORAMA team have produced a powerful, courageous and shocking piece of investigative journalism that has blown the lid on Britain’s immigration detention centres.

Its programme Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets follows a trainee detention officer, who is so concerned with what he is being asked to do that he secretly records his duties while working for g4s at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre near Gatwick.

What is shown amounts to more than abuse; it is torture.

Inside we see detainees from all walks of life. A few, very few, are convicted murderers. Most are stuck in the system, waiting for asylum applications to be processed, or to be deported. A significant number are Britons who were born abroad and never knew they were “illegal” till they were detained by force.

Conditions are horrendous. The synthetic cannabis substitute Spice circulates freely because it is known to sedate users, very conveniently for the guards. Self-harm and suicide attempts are also widespread. Solitary confinement is a regular punishment.

Remember, none of these detainees are in Brook House because they committed a crime. Yet, unlike criminals, their detention is indefinite.

In fact Britain is the only eu country that imposes indefinite detention on migrants like this. A psychologist explains that anyone exposed to such detention for more than a few weeks is almost certain to suffer mental health problems as a result. Yet repeatedly, g4s staff and management refuse to recognise such symptoms in their charges.

The climax of the programme, which reduces the trainee to tears, comes when a detainee tries to kill himself, first by trying to swallow a phone battery and then by self-strangulation.

Officers can be heard laughing at him, encouraging him to succeed. The on-duty nurse, of all people, fails to intervene, dismissing the detainee as “an arse”.

Finally a senior officer intervenes to remove the detainee’s hands from his throat, only to then attempt to strangle the man himself. The detainee comes within a whisker of being killed. Chillingly the officers are then seen fabricating a report of the incident and joking that they wouldn’t care if they had killed him or not.

This programme is a must-see. The only conclusions that can be drawn are:

  • Close down all immigration detention centres now
  • Prosecute g4s and all officers involved in abuse
  • End deportations: open the borders

The programme can be viewed here for the next 11 months: