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Alarm sounded over ‘prison-like’ conditions in UK immigration centres


A new report has urged UK authorities to make a number of improvements within immigration detention centres, including detention conditions and staffing issues.


Immigration detention centers in the UK still have a long way to go.

This is what emerges from the new report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published on Thursday.

During a visit to the country between March and April 2023, he highlighted several issues surrounding uncertainty over the length of migrant detention, “prison-like” conditions in centers and the treatment of those showing symptoms of mental illness.

The British government criticized the report, saying it did not “acknowledge much” of its contents.

The CPT report makes a number of recommendations for Downing Street, which is currently trying to achieve them controversial bill deport asylum seekers to Rwanda through the House of Lords.

The UK is expected to introduce a time limit on the detention of people under immigration legislation, with the uncertainty of not knowing the length of detention having a negative impact on detainees.

At present, the UK’s Immigration Act 1971 does not set a time limit on detention.

This means that people can spend six months and even a year or two in a detention centre, Hugh Chetwynd, executive secretary of the CPT, tells Euronews.

“The uncertainty when you are detained about how long you will be there plays into your well-being,” Chetwynd says, “especially if you have not committed a crime and are about to be removed.”

Prison-like facilities and poor ventilation

The CPT visited four detention centers located across the country: Derwentside (near Newcastle), Brook House (Gatwick Airport) and Colnbrook and Harmondsworth (London area).

According to the report, detention centers are generally well equipped. Some rooms feature a TV, lockable wardrobes, a seating area and easily openable windows.

However, the CPT ruled that Brook House and Colnbrook detention centers remain prison-like and “unsuitable for detaining people”.

While Brook House has attempted to create a better environment by including wall paintings, further efforts should be made, the CPT says.

Some people reported headaches at the center due to the lack of ventilation in the cells, with the CPT reporting mold.

The delegation also received complaints about the food at all four centers. Concerns included inadequate portions and poor quality.

There were no indications of physical mistreatment by staff towards detainees, the report said.

It indicates that people who work in the facilities are generally supportive and have good relationships with everyone.

Yet, in Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, there were alleged reports of abusive language from staff members. At Brook House, the CPT noted moments of “dismissive behavior and lack of engagement” from staff.


Concern about the treatment of people with mental illnesses

People in detention centers have good access to mental health teams, the CPT reported.

But he said transferring patients with “severe symptoms of mental illness” to a psychiatric hospital remained a concern.

The CPT also found that some people considered unfit for detention were being held in the centres.

Under UK rules, vulnerable people must be brought to the attention of authorities who make decisions about detention. If a person’s health is likely to be affected by detention, authorities should consider whether to release them, the report says.

However, the CPT found that in some centers people were misclassified and remained in detention despite the implications for their health.


Their report raised concerns about the deportation processes of foreigners who had committed crimes in the UK, finding that they were “locked up 23 hours a day in their cells in poor conditions with little prospect of removal could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment”.

In response, the UK government said it “fails to recognize much of the content of this report” as it “does not accurately reflect the important work we undertake to ensure the safety and wellbeing of people in our care”.

They argued that the UK had long fulfilled its human rights obligations and ensured that freedoms were protected.

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