The campaign to free Osime Brown has become even more urgent.
Osime recently received word that he’s going to be taken directly from prison to a holding facility on 7th October. This is to prepare him for deportation to Jamaica, a country he hasn’t been to since he was four years old and where he has no family and no support in place.
When people are deported from the UK, they are usually taken through customs at their destination country and then left at the airport. From there, most often, it’s on the individual to fend for themselves. As an autistic young man with high support needs, PTSD, and a severe heart condition, there is no way that this can be allowed to happen.
He could not survive without help.
The autistic community has come together to push back against Osime’s deportation. However, as time begins to run out, we also need to focus our energy on preventing his transfer to an immigration detention centre. We need to look at the reality of immigration detention centres and why they are no place for autistic and vulnerable people.
What is an immigration detention centre?
Essentially, an immigration detention centre is a secure facility where people who are facing deportation are held.
In the UK, people who are awaiting deportation are held in one of three places: prison, a Short-Term Holding Facility (STHF – this is where people are held for a maximum of seven days preceding deportation), or an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC – these are bigger facilities where people are held for a longer period of time).
We’re going to focus on IRCs, as this is where we believe Osime will be taken when he is moved from prison on 7th October. We’re going to be referring to them as immigration detention centres, as this is what they are more colloquially known as. Immigration detention centres are contracted out to private providers, or to the Prison Service.
Although they are not technically prisons, they operate in similar ways. Some of the centres in the UK are even based in buildings that used to be prisons. There are seven IRCs in the UK. Some of these centres have family accommodation, but individuals are usually held in single-room facilities (often with two people per room).
The UK is the only country in Europe that does not have a time limit on detention, with the longest recorded stay in one of these facilities being over three and a half years. The longer that someone is held in one of these places, the less likely they are to actually be deported; however, staying in an IRC for an extended period of time could be an incredibly dangerous thing for someone like Osime.
Why Osime should not be sent to an immigration detention centre
The level of care in these facilities, particularly for vulnerable individuals, is inconsistent at best and non-existent at worst. With the level of support that Osime needs, it’s unlikely that an immigration detention centre will be able to provide anywhere near what is required.
Asylum in Europe reports that, apart from family units, there are no specialised facilities available to look after vulnerable people. If someone with high support needs, like Osime, were to enter one of these places as an individual, there is no on-site or specialised support to ensure that their needs are met.
In 2017, the British Medical Association released a report that identified concerns around whether detainees in these centres were having their health needs met. Additionally, they observed that many disabilities were not being appropriately identified and supported.
Not only does Osime require specialised support for his autism and his PTSD, but he also has a heart condition that has required surgery on two occasions (and which has arguably been made worse by the stress of his time in prison).
As a result of this, he has a medical device that he must use every day to send images to the hospital – but he cannot operate this device himself. It’s unlikely that an immigration detention centre would be able to ensure that this device is properly used when it should be, and this puts Osime’s life in danger. Further, there is no one in Jamaica to continue monitoring Osime’s heart.
On top of all this, the UK is on the verge of a second wave of COVID-19. As someone with a heart condition, and who has been coughing up blood and experiencing chest pains whilst in prison, Osime is extremely high risk for contracting the virus and suffering the worst possible outcome. If he were to be moved to an immigration detention centre, his risk from the virus (already high in prison) would undoubtedly increase.
In March, the group Detention Action took legal action to petition for the release of detainees in IRCs, arguing that the large numbers of people in extremely close quarters, without appropriate medical resources, made these centres dangerously susceptible to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Richard Coker, emeritus professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, testified that it was plausible and credible that 60 per cent of immigration detainees would become infected with COVID-19 (reported here).
Although the Home Office has issued guidance to try and stem the spread of the virus in these centres, it is unlikely these are being followed through to full effect.
In 2019, a Home Affairs Committee report found that Home Office policy and guidance was “too often not being followed,” suggesting that the new COVID-19 guidance may be little more than lip service and will do little to protect the people detained in these centres.
As someone who is already high risk, Osime should not be forced into one of these environments.
Mental Health and Disability
In addition to the lack of care and support in terms of health within these centres, there is also the fact that being in immigration detention can have a deep emotional impact. Many people who find themselves in these centres have an experience that is psychologically damaging.
Being held in what is, essentially, a prison, but without any guarantee how long they will be held or under what circumstances they will be released is traumatic. This is particularly damaging if people are going into the centre with an already traumatic background – and we know that Osime suffers from complex and severe PTSD, to the point where he has self-harmed hundreds of times whilst in prison.
What’s more, autistic people need to know with certain details what they can expect to happen and when. Knowing that processing new information is often impossible in the moment, they need to plot their course internally and plan every step. The uncertainty of his situation, with no access to accommodations, support, medical care, or safety, is an extreme burden for an autistic young man whose understanding of the way the world operates has been compared to a six year old.
In 2018, The Guardian newspaper ran an expose on the state of immigration detention centres in the UK. One of the detainees that they spoke to had been in prison before coming to the facility, and they stated that they had a worse time in the detention centre than they had in prison.
Osime has had an appalling time in prison; facing racist and ableist abuse, getting no support for his needs, and even being deliberately driven to meltdown (to the point where he has broken his arm from punching the iron bar of his cell). From the information in this report, including the conditions that detainees live in and the treatment that detainees face from staff, the thought of what he might experience in a detention centre is unthinkable.
The most worrying thing in The Guardian’s report is this:
“What detainees really fear are meetings with Home Office officials inside detention centres. Many say that the officials pressurise them to opt for voluntary return even when they fear their lives will be at risk if they go home.”
Osime has severe auditory processing deficits and will try to just be as agreeable as possible without understanding what he’s heard. He can not be expected to self-advocate or understand the weight of decisions he’s being asked to make.
It would be entirely inappropriate for Osime to face this kind of pressure from Home Office officials. As we have seen in the case of Matthew Rushin, autistic people who are under extreme stress can easily be pressured and swayed into agreeing to things that could harm them.
If Osime were to be put in this sort of situation, it doesn’t bear thinking about what might happen – if he could be cajoled into agreeing to voluntary return, his life would be in immediate danger. As Joan, Osime’s mother, has said: his removal would be a death sentence.
“You shouldn’t be taken into detention if you’re particularly vulnerable to harm in detention, for example because of your mental health, you’re pregnant or because of a physical disability. If you are detained despite being vulnerable you should apply for bail.”
Under these guidelines, even the suggestion of Osime being detained in an immigration detention centre is unthinkable. And yet this seems to be the plan when he is released from prison on 7th October.
What do we do?
We cannot allow for Osime to be placed in one of these facilities.
As well as campaigning for his deportation order to be revoked, we must urgently also campaign for him to be released on bail to his loving family whilst his deportation is appealed.
Even if we were to eventually succeed in getting him leave to remain in the UK, there is real danger that he would not survive any length of time in an immigration detention centre.
Please continue to make noise about Osime’s case on social media, using the hashtag #FreeOsimeBrown (TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, wherever you have any sort of social media presence) and linking to https://freeosimebrown.com.
In that link, you will find a link to the petition, a link to the GoFundMe, a link to a template to email your MPs and the Home Office and Shadow Minister for Immigration, plus more details about Osime’s case.
The email template has recently been amended to include updated information on Osime’s case, including the call for him to be released on bail rather than held in an immigration detention facility.
Finally, if you want to send some kind and supportive words to Osime, please email Osime.firstname.lastname@example.org, and it will be passed onto him. He could really do with knowing that hundreds of people have his back right now.
The autistic community has been loud and consistent in getting justice and freedom for Osime, and has kept up with and boosted the ever-changing directions of this campaign.
As long as we keep moving together at this pace, we can get justice for Osime.
- Worse than prison: an immigration detention centre could kill Osime Brown - September 14, 2020