Immigration Centres Are Facing Widespread Hunger Strikes

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The Law Of... protecting individuals in immigration centres

Figures from Freedom of Information requests have shown that over 200 detainees in UK immigration centres have taken part in hunger strikes in a 3-month period, as reported by the Guardian.

Immigration Centres Are Facing Widespread Hunger Strikes

Emma Brooksbank, Partner and Head of Immigration (Leeds), investigates why so many people are taking such drastic measures to stay in the UK.

Desperate To Stay

According to human rights campaigners, some of those involved in the hunger strikes chose to abstain from eating or drinking anything in protest of their incarceration or in a desperate attempt to have their immigration application reconsidered.

Other Freedom of Information requests made by the Guardian showed that:

  • 218 people refused to eat anything in July, August, and September this year
  • 109 individuals had attempted suicide
  • 649 detainees were placed on suicide watch

Brook House – near Gatwick airport – was found to have the highest number of detainees who took part in hunger strikes: 66. It also had the highest number of people who were placed on suicide watch – 106.

Commenting on these worrying numbers, Theresa Schleicher, acting director for the charity Medical Justice, said:

"Medical Justice is concerned about the high numbers of detainees refusing food and/or fluids revealed in response to this FoI request. It illustrates the degree of desperation, frustration and sense of helplessness."

"We are frequently contacted by detainees who are refusing food and/or fluids. Their reasons vary and sometimes overlap: some have mental or physical health problems that means they do not or cannot eat", she continued.

"Some express a wish to die by not eating. Some feel their case has not been properly considered and hunger striking is the only way to make their voice heard…Several of the hunger strikers we have seen have later been found to have valid protection claims."

Keeping The Strikes Under Wraps

This data only found its way into the public domain after an appeal against non-disclosure was made to the information commissioner. As part of the appeal, the commissioner found that the Home Office had breached the Freedom of Information act by not completing the public interest test considerations within a certain time frame.

Responding to the appeal, the Home Office stated that:

"Competent individuals (i.e. those that have been assessed as having mental capacity) are considered to be engaged in a food and/or fluid refusal when they fail to partake in scheduled meals for a period of 48 hours (for food) or 24 hours (for fluids), and have not been confirmed as eating food and/or taking fluid from another source (i.e. items purchased from an IRC shop) and have stated that their reasons for not eating or drinking is as a result of a protest or other grievance."

Addressing the number of suicide attempts, the Home Office continued:

"All incidents of self-harm are treated very seriously and every step is taken to prevent incidents of this nature."

"Staff at all centres are trained to identify those at risk of self-harm so that action can be taken to minimise the risk. Notices in various languages are displayed in immigration removal centres setting out where there is a concern about a fellow detainee this should be brought to the attention for a member of staff."

Emma comments:

"It's heart-breaking to hear that so many people are pushed to such limits to try and secure a place in the UK."

"Many people who arrive in the UK are escaping from problems they face in their home countries, such as persecution, and for them the UK is their only hope of starting a new life."

"Detention should always be used as a last resort and is not appropriate for people who are vulnerable and who need support. It should also only be used for the shortest time necessary."

"All too often, people are left in detention for too long, primarily because they cannot access good quality legal representation to secure their release. The Home Office needs to review all detention decisions and should immediately release any person who is vulnerable and any person who cannot be removed from the United Kingdom imminently."


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