Trigger warning: this story includes references to self-harm and suicide.
The Home Office, the interior ministry of the U.K. government, has been accused of placing hundreds of trafficking and torture survivors in indefinite solitary confinement.
According to new testimony, many detained survivors of trafficking and torture are forced into solitary confinement for more than 23 hours a day—sometimes for up to a year.
The brutal and psychologically devastating practice is in violation of international standards for prisoners’ rights laid out by the United Nations, according to the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (Bid).
According to Bid’s legal manager, Araniya Kogulathas, solitary confinement can have severe psychological repercussions and exacerbate underlying conditions, even when enforced for short periods of time.
These harmful effects are reflected in the survivor testimonies, which include harrowing accounts of self-harm, suicide attempts, and other mental health crises.
Witnesses allege that the Home Office kept victims in solitary confinement even when confronted with medical reports attesting their unsuitability for detention, for example due to trauma and pre-existing mental health conditions.
The Guardian reports:
A male held in solitary confinement for seven months from last September says his Home Office case worker wanted him to stay in prison “indefinitely”. This was despite his medical records outlining a long history of self-harm and that he “experienced torture in his home country”, including being stabbed in his head and leg.
He became so “desperate” that he contemplated asking the Home Office to deport him home, despite a high risk of being persecuted on his return.
Another detainee, in his 20s, said: “I feel that foreign nationals are treated like they don’t matter and that the Home Office wants us to be forgotten. I don’t have a good understanding of the law, but I find it hard to believe that solitary confinement for so long could be legal.”
Meanwhile, a separate new study has revealed serious flaws in the safeguarding system intended to prevent the detention of survivors of modern slavery and torture in immigration removal centers.
According to the findings, just 398 of the 13,358 asylum seekers referred to the system were spared detention—a record low of 3 percent, down from 5 percent last year.
The new reports are the latest confirmation that the U.K. government is seriously failing victims of modern slavery.
Later this month, the Home office is due to raise the standard of proof required of trafficking victims seeking leave to remain, a rule change that Freedom United and other campaigners have decried for its potential to significantly increase deportations.
Over 10,000 people have already signed Freedom United’s campaign calling on the world’s governments to stop detaining trafficking survivors, which launched earlier this year.
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