Brook House inquiry condemns potential human rights abuses behind bars

29 September 2023

Last week, after many years of investigation, a report into conditions at Brook House was released. It detailed the treatment of people seeking asylum there that potentially amounts to breaches of human rights laws, causing physical and mental harm to those detained.

The UK is the only place in Europe that has a policy of indefinite detention. What goes on behind the walls of detention centres is often hidden from the public, frequently leaving those detained at the mercy of security guards. The Brook House inquiry offers unique insight into the environment behind the walls, and its findings are damning. The inquiry, set up in the aftermath of a BBC Panorama investigation, found evidence of excessive use of force, inappropriate restraint techniques, and the use of degrading and racist language against detainees, in what was described as a “prison-like” setting. It also noted failings under Rule 35 of the UK Detention Centre Rules, which requires a report to be issued on the suitability of detaining vulnerable people, such as those at risk of self-harm or who are previous victims of torture. It also found 19 instances of possible torture and/or inhumane and degrading treatment, breaching Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  

Whilst these findings are profoundly alarming, they are not new. Overcrowding, with detainees sleeping on mats on the floor of temporary units, diphtheria outbreaks and physical restraining were all highlighted at Manston Processing Centre in Kent last October. More recently, the suicide of Frank Ospina at Colnbrook detention centre in March 2023 triggered a wave of protests and suicide attempts among other detainees at nearby Harmondsworth. Here in Scotland, an inquiry into the death of Xi Biao Huang at Dungavel in 2017 this year found that his death could have been avoided with adequate medical attention. Far from isolated incidents, instances of neglect, mental and physical harm and violence are widespread patterns in the detention estate and institutionalised accommodation across the UK. 

Despite constant guidance to immigration officials and the Home Office to use detention only as a last resort, they are being used to punish people seeking asylum. With the impact of the Illegal Migration Act yet to be fully realised, the Refugee Council have predicted that in the first three years up to 257,101 people may have their asylum claims declared inadmissible, and therefore be eligible for detention. This would see a rapid expansion of the UK detention estate without any of the recommendations of multiple inquiries considered.  

The Brook House inquiry report warns that inhumane treatment of detainees may continue unless its various recommendations are put into effect, including a detention limit of 28 days. Given that the new Illegal Migration Act will expand detention powers, reduce judicial oversight, and subject far more people to indefinite stays in detention centres, this warning will likely become the reality. Likewise, recent reports that the Home Secretary stopped annual independent inspections of detention centres after being warned about safeguarding failures suggest a chronic disregard for the lives and wellbeing of people seeking safety. As the attack on people seeking sanctuary in the UK continues, we call for the end of the dysfunctional detention system and the harm it causes to those who face it.  

Sarah (Campaigns Volunteer) and Iona Taylor (Advocacy and Campaigns Lead) 

Please indicate your consent to this site’s use of cookies

Some cookies are essential for our site to function. We also use cookies for functionality and for performance measurement.