The Brook House investigative report, released Tuesday, was described as a glaring indictment of migrant detention, where migrants who are not punished for a criminal offense are locked up indefinitely.
The report was commissioned because undercover footage obtained by the BBC’s Panorama team provided evidence of the suffering of many detainees. The report includes moving pen portraits of some of those detained.
“Humiliated and degraded”
A St Vincent and the Grenadines-born man joined the British Army in 2001 and served as a Commonwealth soldier for 11 and a half years. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism, and then went to prison. He was taken to Brook House and every time he heard doors slamming he thought it was an explosion, he would throw himself to the ground and become breathless and panicked. He felt chest pains and was taken to hospital by guards. When he wanted to go to the hospital toilet, he was attached to a guard by a long chain. He said he felt “so humiliated and degraded by this experience.”
“I thought I was going to die”
An Egyptian man sought asylum in the UK in 2014. His claim was based on “horrific abuse and torture” he said he suffered in Egypt. The man spent some time in prison, then was arrested. He mutilated himself by putting a T-shirt around his neck and a battery in his mouth. He said one of the guards sat on his head and tried to strangle him. “I thought I was going to die, that the man who did this to me was going to kill me,” he said. He added that he did not complain because he thought the abuse was normal in a British detention center, and he was told the guard who attacked him was “just doing his job.” He suffered from PTSD and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. “People who have mental health issues like me shouldn’t be there,” he said.
“Please do something about this”
A Nigerian man who arrived in the UK in June 2015 and married an EU citizen told the inquest he was unlawfully detained and the impact on his mental health was “overwhelming”. After his time in detention, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has flashbacks and nightmares. “I pray that anyone experiences this, and part of the reason I came to this investigation is to (ask you to) do something about it.”
“Treated like an animal”
A Somaliland-born man who arrived in the UK aged 10 spent some time in care and prison before being detained for 987 days, including 563 days at Brook House. He said the police officers committed racist violence against him and complained of excessive use of force against him. His brother died while in detention, but he was not allowed to attend the funeral. His mental health deteriorated and he attempted suicide. “I was treated like an animal, something less than human,” he said.
“Very difficult and scary”
A Jamaican man, who had lived in the UK for 22 years and was visually impaired, was struggling at Brook House. He said he received very little help moving around the center and had difficulty moving between his cell and other areas. “It was very difficult and scary for me at Brook House, being almost blind. I didn’t know anyone there and I couldn’t see the other inmates properly,” he said.
“Guinea pig for Spice”
An Iranian man who arrived in the UK in November 2012 spent some time in prison, then 422 days at Brook House, as well as a period in other detention centres. He suffered mental health problems and a charity which visited him said he was unaware he was being detained and was in England. The man was bullied by other inmates and forced to act as a guinea pig for the supply of the psychoactive drug Spice which was being smuggled into Brook House. In August 2018 he came under the Mental Health Act, and in 2019 he was granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK.