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Afghan refugees sue Home Office for ‘unlawful conditions’ at immigration removal centre

Three Afghan refugees who claim to have been locked in UK immigration removal centre ‘cells’ for 11 hours every night are suing the Home Office.

The men believe they were detained in ‘unlawful’ conditions during their time at Brooke House IRC, West Sussex, which was then run by private security firm G4S.  

A ‘lock-in regime’, referred to by government officials as the ‘night state’, saw the refugees confined to their rooms between 9pm and 8am, which they say infringed their liberty.  

The Afghans’ legal case also alleges the ‘draconian’ system was particularly distressing to practicing Muslims, who were forced to pray in their cells.

They were all held at Brooke House in either 2017 or 2018 and have now each been granted humanitarian or refugee status in Britain. 

Their action against the Home Office opened today in the High Court, which heard that the government department had ‘surrendered its responsibilities’ to private companies whose profits ‘dictate the regime’.

Three Afghan refugees who claim to have been locked in UK immigration removal centre 'cells' at Brooke House, West Sussex, (pictured) for 11 hours every night are suing the Home Office

Three Afghan refugees who claim to have been locked in UK immigration removal centre 'cells' at Brooke House, West Sussex, (pictured) for 11 hours every night are suing the Home Office

Three Afghan refugees who claim to have been locked in UK immigration removal centre ‘cells’ at Brooke House, West Sussex, (pictured) for 11 hours every night are suing the Home Office 

A 2017 BBC Panorama report showed undercover footage of alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees at the hands of Brook House officers

A 2017 BBC Panorama report showed undercover footage of alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees at the hands of Brook House officers

A 2017 BBC Panorama report showed undercover footage of alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees at the hands of Brook House officers

Brooke House was already under the microscope following a damning 2017 BBC Panorama exposé which lifted the lid on alleged assaults, humiliation and verbal abuse of detainees by officers.  

Footage showed staff allegedly mocking detainees who were receiving medical treatment after self-harming or taking drugs. 

Staff were filmed allegedly choking a detainee – while others were caught mocking asylum seekers. 

Fourteen members of G4S staff were dismissed or resigned following the broadcast and Home Secretary Priti Patel later announced a public inquiry to investigate the ‘mistreatment of detainees’ at the centre.

G4S – which made £14.3million in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018, according to the National Audit Office – pulled out of running any more IRCs last September and the Brook House contract has since been taken over by outsourcing giant Serco. 

Stephanie Harrison QC, representing the Afghans today said the Home Office has ‘operated regimes and conditions of administrative detention across the detention estate which, over time, have become increasingly divergent and varied, but also increasingly restrictive and draconian’.

She told the court: ‘From its outset, Brook House has operated and continues to operate the most restrictive regime, based on a category B prison, of prolonged and multiple lock-ins which significantly curtail and restrict the residual liberties and freedoms of administrative detainees.’

A 'lock-in regime', referred to by government officials as the 'night state', saw the refugees confined to their rooms between 9pm and 8am, which they say infringed their liberty.

A 'lock-in regime', referred to by government officials as the 'night state', saw the refugees confined to their rooms between 9pm and 8am, which they say infringed their liberty.

A ‘lock-in regime’, referred to by government officials as the ‘night state’, saw the refugees confined to their rooms between 9pm and 8am, which they say infringed their liberty. 

Ms Harrison said the lock-in regime ‘compounds and/or risks exacerbating the recognised adverse impact of indefinite immigration detention’, in particular for detainees ‘with histories of torture, other serious ill-treatment and mental illness’.

She added: ‘It is the contractual arrangements in existence and costs, including G4S profits, that dictate the regime, not the statutory requirement for relaxed and humane conditions which respect detainees’ status as administrative detainees and their human dignity.’

Ms Harrison argued that the ‘wide variation’ between IRCs was a result of the Home Office having ‘in effect surrendered and/or abdicated its responsibilities to set the minimum standards and conditions required for a relaxed and humane regime appropriate for administrative detention and to set appropriate constraints on how the balance should be objectively be struck with security’.

She said: ‘It is the staff levels and therefore the cost that have dictated the decision-making about the nature of the lock-in hours, rather than … the requirements of the rules.’

Thomas Roe QC, for the Home Office, said in written submissions that ‘many immigration removal centres, including Brook House, are run by private contractors’ and that ‘all immigration removal centres have a night state’.

He told the court that the Home Office’s contract with G4S ‘expressly empowered the Secretary of State to amend any obligation of G4S under the contract’.

G4S - which made £14.3million in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018, according to the National Audit Office - pulled out of running any more IRCs last September and the Brook House contract has since been taken over by outsourcing giant Serco

G4S - which made £14.3million in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018, according to the National Audit Office - pulled out of running any more IRCs last September and the Brook House contract has since been taken over by outsourcing giant Serco

G4S – which made £14.3million in profit from Brook House between 2012 and 2018, according to the National Audit Office – pulled out of running any more IRCs last September and the Brook House contract has since been taken over by outsourcing giant Serco 

Mr Roe said: ‘The Secretary of State could therefore alter the hours of the night state if she so wished.

‘It follows that the night state at Brook House prevailed at the material time in the form it did because the Secretary of State wished it to, and not because she had put it out of her power to change it.’

He added: ‘While it is true that Brook House is a secure environment and was built to Prison Service category B standard, it does not follow that detention there is like incarceration as a prisoner at a category B prison.

‘This would be to overlook the considerable freedoms detainees enjoy at Brook House.’

Mr Justice Cavanagh, who will hear the case over three days, is expected to reserve his judgment.

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