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18 Oct 2018

Pressure grows on the government to end indefinite detention

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02 Oct 2018
Developments over the summer have seen pressure mounting on the government to do the right thing and end indefinite immigration detention. This is a demand Labour has been making for some time, and which has become all the more urgent with recent figures showing that the number of people held for over six months in immigration detention centres in the UK has increased.

Just before Parliament closed for the summer recess, Home Secretary Sajid Javid finally pledged to look into how time limits on the detention of immigrants work in other countries. This was quite a development considering that the government had previously not even been prepared to accept we have a system of indefinite detention in place, and now we must increase the pressure on them to end the practice.

The Home Secretary’s announcement was in response to the publication of a second, highly critical, review of the UK’s immigration detention system by former prisons and probation ombudsman Stephen Shaw, following up from his earlier review in 2016 of which many of the key recommendations have not been carried out.

The Home Secretary’s announced was then quickly followed by the UN refugee agency backing calls for a time limit, with the UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner Volker Turk saying he hoped the study would result in limits being put in place, with detention only used as a “last resort.”

Turk said that “If, indeed, detention is unavoidable and it is the last resort that it is meant to be, there needs to be a time limitation put to it,” and added that “I think we hope very much that in the course of this study ... that indeed time limits would be the outcome.”

One of the findings of the second Shaw review (read more in my earlier piece here) is that people are being locked in unacceptable conditions, and that this often occurs for “deeply troubling” lengths of time.

The UK immigration detention estate is one of the largest in Europe, with around 2,500 to 3,500 people in detention at any given time, so these findings are of much importance.

Shaw found that more than one in five detainees are held for at least two months, and while there has recently been a drop in the overall detainee population, the number of people held in removal centres for more than six months has increased.

These points from the UNHCR and in the Shaw Review followed an unprecedented recent call from the British Red Cross for an end to indefinite detention and the introduction of 28-day limit on detention.

The Red Cross issued this call having found cases of asylum-seekers being detained for as long as two years and seven months, and warned that conditions were such that detainees suffer mental health problems, which can lead to suicide attempts.

Amnesty International have also been part of the growing chorus of those of us calling for an end to indefinite detention.

As Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director, has said, “The Home Office response to the first Shaw review has failed to fix the UK’s inhumane immigration system.  Instead of reducing the number of people in long-term detention, there has been a worrying increase in the number of people held for over six months,” and “the approach towards the thousands of particularly vulnerable people who are locked up each year - including rape victims, torture survivors and people with serious mental illness – is also of significant concern. They remain subjected to detention as or more frequently than before.”

Additionally, Medical Justice’s most recent report into the issue has also found that among its caseload there was an increase in the number of vulnerable people being detained, and many of these are detained for
longer periods.

Alongside this, numerous bodies have repeatedly raised concerns about the British government’s policy of separating parents from their young children as part of immigration detention. Charities such as Bail for
Immigration Detainees (BID) have for some time been raising the cases of children, many of whom are British citizens, taken into care because their parents have been detained, or even deported, without them.

Furthermore, research from BID has also found that vulnerable people including torture survivors and people with mental health problems were detained too often and for too long.

Whilst it is welcome that the Government have said they will make this study into how time limits on the detention of immigrants work in other countries, we should remember that when Shaw published his first review in 2016 this also included concerns regarding indefinite detention and yet it is still in place.

This clearly shows just how slowly the Tories have been to act and why we must keep up the pressure on this important issue.

As long as indefinite detention continues it will cause real suffering to thousands of people. The time has come for real change and the Government to end the harmful practice of routine and indefinite use of
detention.

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