Coronavirus: Migrants in UK detention centres confined to cells amid outbreak
Detainees say immigration removal centres have become prisons as lockdown met with legal challenge
Asylum seekers in British detention centres are being confined to their cells amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak in the country, a legal advice group has warned.
Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), a UK-based charity which offers free legal advice for asylum seekers and migrants, said they had heard reports that detainees would remain locked in their cells even during meal times.
BID called the reports “astounding” and questioned why the detainees had not been released.
Detainees at the Brook House immigration removal centre (IRC), near Gatwick airport, have complained that there is now little difference between the centre and a prison.
“In detention, all of us are being locked up in our rooms. So there is no difference between this place and a prison,” one detainee wrote on Twitter.
“The officer just came out and said we are not going to be allowed out of our rooms until further notice.”
Three of the UK’s immigration removal centres are reportedly housing people with symptoms of coronavirus.
The first confirmed case of the virus in one of the centres was identified in an unnamed woman being held at the Yarl’s Wood facility on Sunday, prompting renewed calls for the release of detainees during the pandemic.
The rights group Detention Action this week started an emergency petition calling for the immediate release of asylum seekers held in British IRCs.
The system is believed to house around 900 asylum seekers awaiting the outcomes of their applications to stay in the UK.
Detention Action say the centres “create fertile conditions for the spread of coronavirus”.
Britain’s interior ministry on Wednesday announced it would close the IRCs to visitors during the lockdown imposed on the country. Rights groups say this means asylum seekers have no access to lawyers or visitors.
The ministry says it is working closely with Public Health England and the NHS and has put “robust contingency plans in place”.
It added that handwashing facilities are available at the detention centres.
But detainees themselves have said they have not been provided with soap, and have reported concerns about the cleanliness of rooms in the facilities.
One detainee told the BBC that one cell, which housed a person with coronavirus symptoms, was not cleaned after they were removed to be quarantined.
“The way we’re being treated is disgusting,” he said.
“People are moving in and out of cells … without the cells being cleaned.”
Detention Action on Wednesday took legal action against the UK interior ministry at the High Court.
The rights group argues that the ministry is unlawfully maintaining the detention of people with underlying health issues putting them at increased risk from the virus.
The group also claims there is no realistic prospect of deportation due to the widespread travel bans brought by the pandemic.
Updated: March 25, 2020 05:32 PM