Immigration detention

Sajid Javid must shape his own legacy and bring an end to indefinite immigration detention

Posted by Sam Grant on 06 Jun 2018

Every year the Home Office locks up nearly 30,000 people indefinitely.

This afternoon Sajid Javid will appear before the Joint Committee on Human Rights to discuss the detention of the Windrush generation.

The Home Office have yet to work out how many people were wrongfully locked up in immigration detention – but this isn’t the only number that the new Home Secretary needs to work out. He needs to get his head around the entire immigration detention system.

Every year the Home Office locks up nearly 30,000 people – including children, asylum seekers and survivors of torture, trafficking and rape. No judge authorises their detention and they aren’t given a release date.

This afternoon’s session will be the first time the new Home Secretary has spoken about one of the darkest stains on our human rights record.

It’s his chance to leave the hostile environment of his predecessors behind – as he said he would.

If he is going to keep that promise, here’s what Sajid Javid needs to do today:

1. Admit the Home Office detains people indefinitely

No one in immigration detention knows when they will be released. Many are held for months – some for several years. Evidence shows just one month’s detention can cripple mental health.

Despite this, ministers keep denying that people in the UK are subject to indefinite detention.

The dictionary definition of indefinite is “lasting for an unknown or unstated length of time”. As in, “they may face indefinite detention”.

We hope Mr Javid will stop the denials and start looking for alternatives.

2. Acknowledge the brutal conditions in detention centres and the poor treatment of detainees

Regular inspections have branded detention centres as failing to uphold safety and respect for individuals in detention. There are cases of the unlawful and fatal use of restraint and denial of essential medical care.

Staff have been filmed assaulting those they supervise and calling them “animals”. Women who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence are guarded by male officers who can enter their cells at any time. The courts have identified numerous cases of inhuman and degrading treatment in UK immigration centres.

Research by the British Medical Association, Amnesty International, Women for Refugee Women and many others has laid bare the serious mental and physical harm indefinite detention causes – not just to those in detention, but to their children and loved ones.

Reports suggest at least one person a day is self-harming in detention. A number of people have taken their own lives.

Sajid Javid should prioritise visiting an immigration removal centre, to help him understand what a yet unknown number of the Windrush generation went through as well as what tens of thousands of others go through every year.

3. Admit immigration detention isn’t about protecting people

Too often, ministers have tried to dehumanise those in detention and dismiss their suffering by labelling them “foreign national offenders”.

Those in removal centres with criminal convictions are ex-offenders who have served their time. That does not justify a second, indefinite detention – and suggesting it does shows contempt for fundamental British values of fairness and justice.

As Windrush shows us, you could have been living in and contributing to the UK, indeed believe yourself to and legally be a British citizen and still end up in an immigration detention centre.

4. Stop pretending detention is effective or necessary – and admit there are better alternatives

Ministers have also repeatedly claimed that only those with a realistic chance of quick removal from the UK are detained.

But the latest immigration statistics for the year ending March 2018 show 53 per cent of the 28,244 people leaving detention were released back into the community, not removed.

The Government’s wasting about £76 million of taxpayers’ money on the long-term detention of people it ultimately releases. Conservative MP, Andrew Mitchell has just this week written about how a 28-day time limit on immigration detention would save money and make the system more just.

We don’t have to look too far afield to see alternatives to detention working well. When the Government stopped detaining children in 2010 they introduced a case management and engagement approach for families – another system is possible.

The Government insists 95 per cent of cases are already dealt with in the community, so we know there are alternatives.

5. Listen to the growing chorus of voices calling for a time limit – and act

If the Home Secretary wants to turn a new page, he must commit to putting a 28-day time limit on immigration detention as soon as possible.

The UK’s routine use of immigration detention makes us an outlier. It has been condemned by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, cross-party MPs, the Government’s own expert reviewer, cross-faith leaders and many more.

The indefinite detention of members of the Windrush generation shames us but so does the continual and regular detention of others.

No more denials. No more deflection. The Home Secretary can shape his own legacy and start to bring an end to indefinite immigration detention today.

Tell the Home Secretary to put a 28-day time limit on immigration detention now.

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