It’s about time – a time limit on immigration detention

Since the publication of Detained Lives (which Tamsin Algers refers to in her earlier blog here), a campaign to end UK’s practice of indefinite detention has been gathering pace.  Rachel Robinson, Advocacy Manager for Liberty, argues why the time is now to end this practice once and for all.  

There are few things more difficult than waiting. At an airport. In traffic. For a diagnosis. To see your family again.

But what if time goes by and the uncertainty never ends? Hope fades. Despair grows.

This is life for the thousands of people held indefinitely in immigration detention in the United Kingdom every year – and for the loved ones they are separated from.

Because the Home Office’s detention regime lets immigration officers lock people up with no time limit – a brutal practice that devastates mental health and has made self-harm and suicide commonplace.

People are dying on the Government’s watch here in the UK.

Cases can and should be processed in the community. Other countries do this successfully, and there are even projects in the UK that show a person’s immigration status can be resolved without the need for this cruel and expensive practice.

Thousands of people are being forced to put their lives on hold and live in legal limbo for no good reason.

Liberty wants to see an end to immigration detention except in the most exceptional circumstances to allow for immediate removal.

But for now – and it’s about time – we need to end this darkest of stains on our human rights record, stop the suffering and uncertainty and put a 28-day time limit on immigration detention.

Waste of life

The UK’s detention estate is the largest and most draconian in the EU. Its centres are akin to prisons but with two major differences: those locked up weren’t sent there by a judge – and they haven’t been told when they’ll get out.

Medical evidence shows mental health deteriorates significantly after just one month in detention. As of June 2017, one person had been locked up for 1,514 days – more than four years.

Those held include children and survivors of torture, slavery and rape. Pregnant women are still incarcerated despite a Government-commissioned review recommending expectant mothers are never detained for immigration purposes.

As part of a recent study Women for Refugee Women interviewed a group of asylum-seeking women held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. They found that 88 per cent of these vulnerable women had been detained for more than a month. The same percentage said their mental health had suffered. Half of them had thought about killing themselves. Two had tried.

In 2015 there were 393 suicide attempts in UK detention centres. In the same year, 2,957 people – including 11 children – were on suicide watch.

Since 2000 there have been at least 35 deaths. Ten people have died in the past year alone. Four of those died at Morton Hall, where just a year ago an unannounced inspection exposed a surge in violence and a threefold rise in self-harm since 2013.

Inspections like this, the vital work of journalists uncovering this shadowy world and several major legal cases have revealed centres are failing to meet the most basic standards of safety and respect for human dignity. They are overcrowded and filthy, medical treatment is denied, guards have fatally restrained detainees and there have been allegations of verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

On numerous occasions the courts have ruled the Home Office has violated detainees’ human rights by subjecting them to inhuman and degrading treatment.

It’s about time

Indefinite immigration detention is a waste of human life. No one should be locked up on the say so of an official with no idea when they will be released.

Brexit is dominating the Westminster agenda and it suits the Government to keep immigration detention off the table. But these are people’s lives, and we can’t afford to wait any longer.

The UK is at a turning point and now is the time to make sure we leave the EU as a country which respects human rights.

We will take the fight to Government and we will not be alone. The Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP manifestos all committed to end indefinite immigration detention. The Greens, Plaid Cymru and some Democratic Unionists are also in support.

Next year, the Government will publish an Immigration Bill as part of a package of new Brexit laws. That could be our opportunity to get a 28-day time limit guaranteed in law.

For the sake of all those held in detention, we have to seize it. We can’t keep them waiting any longer.

 

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