UK detention centre death “won’t be the last”

An Algerian man’s death at a UK detention centre won’t be the last, says Beatrice Grasso, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK’s detention outreach manager.

“This is not the first death in detention this year, and I fear it will not be the last time something like this happens.

“It is a testament to the detrimental effects on both physical and mental health that indefinite detention innately causes, often compounding existing vulnerabilities and corroding an individual’s dignity,” Grasso says.

She points out that while some people are held in detention for a short period, others can be detained for protracted periods before being released into the community.

“The trauma of detention coupled with the anxiety induced by this uncertainty have a damaging effect on the physical and mental health of those who are put through it,” she says.

The man is a 51-year-old Algerian detainee who died on Sunday at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre near Heathrow Airport.

Harmondsworth – which is the largest detention centre in Europe – is used for asylum seekers who are trying to establish their identity, or undocumented immigrants waiting to be deported. Criminals are not detained there.

A report from Government prison inspectors which was released in March this year found the Harmondsworth centre had the highest number of self-harm cases in the UK.

The report revealed that during the period between January 2016 and August 2017, 150 incidents of detainees requiring medical treatment for self-harm were recorded.

The inspectors also noted nearly a third of detainees identified as “vulnerable,” but were not being adequately safeguarded.

These included torture victims who are being held at Harmondsworth despite the government accepting evidence of their vulnerability.

Another concern the inspectors reported was that many detainees described “a sense of purposelessness and boredom” and that the mental health needs of detainees were often not met.

The UK is the only European country that has no time limit on detaining asylum seekers, with the longest recorded detention lasting over five years.

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