Stephen Shaw's new immigration detention report is essential summer reading for MPs
As MPs jet off on their summer holidays, they will no doubt be desperate for some interesting and insightful reads to fill the inevitable downtime.
One major work they almost certainly haven’t had time to pick up yet is Sir Stephen Shaw’s second review into the welfare of people held in immigration detention – published by the Home Office at 3pm on Parliament’s last day of term.
The UK is the only country in Europe that detains people for administrative immigration purposes without release dates. And just like the countless reports that demonstrate the need for a 28-day time limit on immigration detention and what community based alternatives to locking people up look like, Sir Stephen’s latest makes for essential reading.
Shaw’s first review – published in 2016 – made 64 recommendations and outlined the serious damage caused to mental health by detention. It concluded that “detention in and of itself undermines welfare and contributes to vulnerability.”
This follow-up was an attempt to mark the Home Office’s progress in implementing his recommendations. Now Shaw’s added a further 44 – focused around improving poor conditions and protecting people with vulnerabilities. Yet his most telling comments come in response to the detention system as a whole.
Last year 26,541 people were locked up with no release date. Over half were eventually released back into the community. Shaw says the figures “call into question the extent to which the current use of detention is cost effective or necessary.” He goes on to say “the current system must be regarded as happenstance.”
This means the concerns raised about overcrowding, the delivery of healthcare in sometimes insanitary and unsuitable conditions and the detention of elderly people are all things occurring by chance.
It is not good enough to have a system that dictates who can and cannot be deprived of their liberty indefinitely and a system which leads to more than one suicide attempt a day governed by happenstance.
Fundamentally, this isn’t a debate about conditions. This is a debate about liberty. As the 2015 cross-party inquiry into immigration detention remarked “little will change by tinkering with the pastoral care or improving the facilities.” We could detain people in palaces but we would still be holding them without a time limit.
In response to the growing calls for a time limit Sajid Javid has commissioned an internal Home Office review looking at how a deadline works in other countries and how it could operate here.
This is a big step from a Government that regularly denies the UK detains people indefinitely.
The case for a time limit has been made over and over again, has cross-party and civil society support and the backing of almost 55,000 of you who have signed Liberty’s petition to end indefinite detention.
It is important to remember that while the Government wait for the results of internal reports, thousands will continue to wait indefinitely inside detention centres.
It is vital this report tops MPs’ reading lists and that they return to work ready for action – because it’s about time we ended this practice once and for all.