detention forum

Why you need to speak to politicians now: how to use Detention Forum’s latest briefing paper on immigration detention

This post is by the the Detention Forum:


Our latest parliamentary briefing paper, Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom is now available. You can download it here.

Now is the time that you speak to your MPs, Peers and your communities about the urgent need for detention reform, starting with a time limit. Here is why.

This week, Parliament returns after summer recess. And in the same week Stephen Shaw, who conducted the review of immigration detention in 2015, begins his second review. This is a good news: we certainly need more scrutiny over the use of immigration detention.

However we cannot sit around, wait for Mr Shaw to finish his second review and find out what he has to say, because things are already not looking good.

We created an immense pressure that forced the Government to acknowledge for the first time ever that immigration detention is a problem and that they need to do something about it.

Under pressure, the Immigration Minister promised detention reform and said such reform would “lead to a reduction in the number of those detained, and the duration of detention before removal, in turn improving the welfare of those detained.”

The pressure came from all directions: people with experience of detention, communities supporting them and parliamentarians who could see the injustice of immigration detention and decided to act.

That was in January 2016, more than 1.5 years ago. There is mounting evidence which shows that the government simply and quietly broke their promise.

The latest detention statistics that came out a few weeks ago revealed that since January 2016, there has been little change in the lengths or the scale of detention. Our analysis is here.

Nearly 28,000 migrants still enter the detention estate in a year and more than one in three people leaving detention had been detained longer than 29 days. And 52% who left detention were returned back to the community and not removed, raising questions over the necessity of their detention.

Only last week, we heard the news of G4S suspending its staff members working at Brook House detention centre over allegations of abuse. Such allegations must be properly investigated and any form of abuse is totally unacceptable. However, improving staff conduct in detention centres is not enough to address the UK’s systemic overuse of immigration detention.

It is clear that we can’t trust the Home Office to take seriously the task of detention reform. In the words of Joe from Freed Voices who experienced immigration detention, ‘The fact that the Home Office makes promises they don’t keep is not really news to me.’

One of the ways to put pressure on the Home Office is to urge parliamentarians to seek accountability for the broken promise of detention reform. Without a radical reform, this system will continue to detain people indefinitely without a time limit, harm people’s health and well-being and separate people from their friends, families and communities.

It’s important to always remember that it is people and communities’ voice that has been the driving force for change.

It was people and communities affected by immigration detention that convinced the first parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention that the whole detention system must change immediately, starting with the introduction of a 28 day time limit.

This prompted a cross-party group of parliamentarians to try to introduce a time limit in law. This call for a time limit was formidable and the government were defeated twice through the Immigration Act 2016 progress. As a compromise measure, the government offered an automatic judicial oversight of detention after four months for some people: though this has not been enacted yet.

Now is also a good time to be approaching MPs and peers.

Some MPs have been newly elected in June 2017 and haven’t had a chance to learn about immigration detention and its devastating impact on people. Many are also unaware of the parliamentary inquiry, the first Shaw Review or what positive legislative changes were secured in Immigration Act 2016. They need to know these things if they were to confidently speak up for the need for detention reform.

Political parties will be having their conferences in autumn, and some of our colleagues will be out there speaking to them about the need for detention reform. It helps if MPs and peers have already approached by their constituents and contacts who are deeply troubled by the UK’s use of immigration detention: they will know that it is an issue that they must pay attention to.

Some parliamentarians are already speaking up (see here, here and here) and we need more of them. Our setback has been that some of the most supportive MPs lost their seats after the last election: we need new voices.

We know that some NGOs are planning to publish their reports on immigration detention over the next few months. It helps if parliamentarians are already familiar with immigration detention and its impact when these reports come out, to encourage them to take a greater interest in what these reports have to say.

Our new briefing paper summarises all the key points that MPs and Peers need to know about immigration detention. We hope you can use it to make sure much-needed detention reform actually happens.

If you have any questions about how to approach or engage your MPs, do get in touch. We are also compiling a parliamentary contact map so we can pool our knowledge and intelligence. If you want to contribute to this or want to get some information from us, please get in touch too. You can contact us at detentionforum@gmail.com – we don’t work everyday, so it might take some time before we can reply.

And don’t forget our annual Unlocking Detention will be starting in October 2017. Stay tuned!