All eyes on amendment 32: time to stop the same trends repeating

This blog post was written for Unlocking Detention by Eiri Ohtani, coordinator of the Detention Forum.

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A sense of deja vu

The latest statistics on the government’s use of immigration detention released yesterday show a worrying 11% increase in the number of people entering the detention estate in the UK.

For the year ending September 2015, a total of 32,741 people were detained, an increase of 3,250 people from the previous period (29,491).

Yet, the proportion of people leaving detention to be removed from the UK has continued to decrease.

Only 47% of people were removed from detention in the year ending September 2015, meaning that 53% of those who left detention returned to their community.

A sense of deja vu?

We find the same trend, again and again, each time the official statistics on detention are released.

Detention up, removals down.

And yet again, these statistical figures raise a series of political questions.

Why are these people detained in the first place, when so many of them are released back to the community anyway, at vast financial and human cost?

Could their detention not have been avoided, bearing in mind the negative impact of immigration detention on individuals’ well-being as well as the devastating impact on their families, friends and communities?

Another question these statistics force us to ask is whether it is indeed necessary to maintain the current size of the detention estate.

The statistics show that many incidents of deprivation of liberty were pointless from the government’s point of view, as they do not result in removals.

Indeed, closing down detention centres is not an entirely unfamiliar idea.

Haslar Immigration Removal Centre (160 beds) shut its doors earlier this year and now stands empty.  The closure of Dover Immigration Removal Centre (316 beds) was also announced just last month.

It is therefore possible to close down more detention centres, save money and reinvest that money to improve the quality of decision making and support people in the community.

At the moment, however, the government appears to be concentrating on getting bidders for detention centre contracts to undercut each other, possibly at the expense of the quality of services that are available to people who are in detention.  The cost of detention per day has now gone down to £90.41 from £91.61 since June 2015. The National Audit Office is currently investigating the tendering of contracts for Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, and the issue of the costs is likely to come under some scrutiny.

The Immigration Bill

These statistics were announced just as the Immigration Bill 2015 is reaching its report stage on Tuesday 1st December.

Of the numerous amendments to the Bill which have been submitted, many deal with pertinent detention issues, including the detention of vulnerable people and provision for automatic bail hearings.

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All eyes are on Amendment 32, which would introduce a 28 day limit on the length of time the Home Office can keep someone in immigration detention.  It is an impressive display of consensus across MPs from different political parties, including all the main opposition front-benches, who do not necessary agree on general immigration policies.  It also reflects the main recommendation made by the cross-party panel who conducted an eight-month long parliamentary inquiry into the use of immigration detention.

Another interesting development is New Clause 13, which creates an obligation for the Secretary of State to commission an independent review of immigration detention.

This new clause reflects:

“the unanimous agreement of the House of Commons to the recommendations of the joint APPG on Refugees and APPG on Migration inquiry into immigration detention” and “requires the Secretary of State to appoint an independently-chaired panel to consider the issues raised therein and report to Parliament within three months of Schedule 7 to the Bill coming into force.”

This Bill, another attempt to create an even more “hostile environment” for our community members who don’t happen to have a British passport, is expected to reach the House of Lords before Christmas.

The heightened discomfort with indefinite detention, a legacy of the Parliamentary Inquiry both in Parliament and in civil society organisations, will certainly ensure that the focus on detention will continue in House of Lords, whether the government likes it or not.

If a time limit on immigration detention were to be introduced, the detention regime will have to look radically different.  We are likely to see a far smaller detention estate, with far fewer people detained for shorter periods.  Of course, as one of the MPs said during the course of the Immigration Bill committee debate, the introduction of a time limit does not go far enough in ending the policy of detention.  However, it still offers “a massive step in the right direction.”

In the meantime, for those thousands of people trapped in detention and people living in community with fear of detention, change can’t come fast enough.

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