Afghan Asylum Seekers Sue UK Government Over 'Unlawful Conditions' in Migrant Center
Refugees allege the 'draconian' system was distressing to Muslims
A group of asylum seekers from Afghanistan is suing the UK Government, alleging that the "draconian" and "unlawful conditions" in a migrant holding center were "distressing to Muslims."
In their lawsuit against the Home Office, three Afghan refugees claim they were locked in UK immigration removal center "cells" for 11 hours every night.
The refugees were housed at Brooke House IRC, West Sussex, which was then run by private security firm G4S.
The men believe they were detained in "unlawful conditions" after entering the country illegally to claim asylum.
A "lock-in regime," referred to by government officials as the "night state," saw the refugees confined to their rooms between 9 pm and 8 am.
The migrants say this schedule infringed on their liberty.
The Afghans' legal case 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 on Tuesday in the High Court, which heard that the government department had "surrendered its responsibilities" to private companies whose profits "dictate the regime."
Stephanie Harrison QC, representing the Afghans 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."
Ms. Harrison said the lock-in regime "compounds and/or risks exacerbating the recognized 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 centers, including Brook House, are run by private contractors' and that 'all immigration removal centers 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."
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.