‘UK detention center is a prison’ – hunger striker’s relative

People familiar with the conditions at immigration removal centers in the UK have described them as “proper prisons” with abominable conditions such as lack of medical care, physical abuse and illegal indefinite detentions.

Amid mounting criticism of the handling of refugees by British authorities, a social media campaign under the hashtag #DetainedVoices has been launched in support of detainees kept in the detention centers.

RT’s Laura Smith spoke with detainee Ahmat Obid over the phone, who said he initiated the hunger strike because authorities were “making fun” of indefinitely detained people who wanted their cases to be reviewed.

“I came to discuss with them the matter of hunger. And they asked, ‘What do you want?’ I said we want to leave, we want to have freedom. And she was just smiling, she was just laughing, she told me it was not possible,” Obid said.

RT spoke with the brother-in-law of Obid, Ghulam Nabi, to learn more about the detainee’s story and the conditions in which he is being kept.

'UK authorities leave him no choice but to join Taliban'

According to Nabi, his relative is an Afghan policeman who left his home village after receiving threatening letters from the Taliban. But he was refused asylum in the UK.

“It is not a detention center – it is a proper prison,” Nabi told RT. “They refused his [Obid’s] case and he is [detained] there basically for the last two months.”

He described the hunger strike as having little impact on Obid’s case. “The hunger strike has not worked, they haven’t done anything,” he said.

Nabi has alleged that some of the hunger strikers are being beaten up, and cases of deaths in detention are simply being ignored.

“Last night a guy died in the detention center – a Bangladeshi guy. And nobody cared about him, nobody talks about him,” Nabi said.

Nabi said that UK authorities are leaving his brother-in-law no choice but to fall into the arms of the Taliban. “[The officials] will probably send him home. And [Obid] told me: ‘What I will do, I will join the Taliban because I don’t have any other choice. The Afghanistan army will not accept me, or if they accept me, the Taliban will kill me.'”

READ MORE: Hunger strike in UK immigration detention center spreads

‘Inhumane, expensive & inefficient’

Britain’s Home Office estimates that some 30,000 migrants and asylum seekers are detained indefinitely in the country while their immigration status is resolved. Many are held for months or even years.

Hundreds of asylum seekers at UK immigration detention centers are on hunger strike, protesting against sub-standard housing conditions in several facilities.

In an open letter to the Home Office, detainees submitted a list of grievances. They complain of inadequate healthcare and access to legal service, noting that sometimes no legal counsel is provided for them at all.

Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD) told RT that “this inhumane system must be overhauled to ensure that vulnerable and traumatized individuals...are given the protection they came to the UK to claim.”

The Refuge Council expressed similar sentiments: “Ministers must accept that the cat is out of the bag – immigration detention is inhumane, expensive and inefficient.”

There has been great controversy surrounding immigration detention policy, leading to the re-naming of “immigration detention centers” to “immigration removal centers,” former chief executive of Freedom from Torture Keith Best told RT.

“Most part of the immigration detention is illegal because the government can only lawfully put people in the immigration detention center if they are trying to ascertain their identity or if they are putting them through the fast track, or if they are about to be deported,” Best said.

Best confirmed that there have been staff dismissals due to sexual abuse of detainees in the past. He also mentioned reports about the inadequacy of medical facilities. “People have died in immigration detention centers through want of having proper medical care,” Best stated.

“Although doctors do visit and they are meant to check out people, it is very difficult to get people actually taken out of immigration detention on those medical grounds.”

What is worse, according to Best, is that women and children are also detained in “this terrible, traumatic experience.”

‘No time limit on immigration detention is grave concern’

“We are extremely concerned that there is no time limit on immigration detention in the UK,” Sarah Campbell, research and policy manager at BiD, told RT.

BiD opposes the use of immigration detention. The group helps people in detention apply for bail.

READ MORE: ‘Some asylum seekers spend months in UK detention centers’

“Some of the people we deal with have been in detention for several years. In some cases their mental health has deteriorated during that time, and it is frankly appalling the situation that we are seeing. An awful lot of people are being detained unnecessarily and in some cases unlawfully.”

One of BiD’s biggest concerns is access to healthcare, as the organization has dealt with people who were seriously ill and did not have access to medical attention.

Another worry is access to legal advice. “Immigration law is extremely complex. Often the people we are dealing with have a limited command of English, they might have limited education,” Campbell said. “Without representation, they can be detained and they can also be removed, even though it is unlawful. We’ve seen people who have been trafficked into the UK, who have been tortured, people with very serious mental health problems held in detention.”

The latest hunger strike comes in the wake of a damning UK parliamentary inquiry published last week. The report confirmed the alleged abuse and inhumane conditions in centers throughout the country.