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Home Office inquiry launched into conditions of UK detention centres

The Home Office is to launch an investigation into allegations of abuse and mistreatment by immigration detention centre staff across the country following legal challenges from human rights groups. Allegations have been made that guards in immigration detention centres are physically and/or verbally abusing detainees and that the needs of vulnerable people are being overlooked or mishandled by staff.

One of the major concerns voiced by both people who have been detained and by activist groups is that a high proportion of detainees are at risk due to mental health issues – whether pre-existing or brought on by the stresses of their situation – and that many of the centres are ill-equipped to deal with this issue.

What seems to be a key factor in the Home Office’s decision to launch the inquiry has been BBC Panorama’s uncovering of abuse by guards at the Brook House detention centre, a story that broke in September last year. Brook House is run by G4S, a private security firm that has come under scrutiny in the past for various allegations of abuse and unethical actions.

Mounting uncertainty concerning UK immigration and the status of many immigrants/asylum seekers may be partially responsible for the dramatic increase in detainees being classified as ‘at risk’. The Guardian reported that, shockingly, suicide attempts had sharply climbed by over 20% in a matter of mere months. Concerns have been voiced by the lawyers of suicidal detainees as to the mishandling of the mentally ill by staff, and that the mental health facilities of these centres are insufficient to deal with this ever-growing issue.

Whilst the exact terms of the inquiry are not yet set in stone, the Home Office’s main sticking point is the lowering of any legal challenges aimed at the organisation. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, an organisation that looks into mistreatment and deaths of detainees, is set to carry out the inquiry in future months. What actions the Home Office will take after the inquiry are unclear, but the threat of legal action from advocacy groups and individuals may prompt reforms to the way these detention centres are run.

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