The “utter failure” of the UK Home Office has led to serious problems with every part of the immigration detention system. So says a new report by Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, published today.
The inquiry was prompted by the exposure of appalling physical and verbal abuse by staff of people held at Brook House detention centre in 2017, and by persistent reports of the inappropriate use of immigration detention and its damaging effect on the mental health and wellbeing of detainees.
These Walls Must Fall campaigners in Manchester, experts by experience, were among those who gave evidence to the committee. The report is a pretty damning indictment of every aspect of the immigration detention system.
The recommendations include calling for an end to indefinite detention and a maximum 28-day time limit, with immediate effect, and says the Home Office must do much more to ensure that detention is an option of last resort. The Committee also calls for an overhaul of the Adults at Risk policy, stronger judicial oversight and a more humane decision-making process for detention to ensure that vulnerable people are not being let down.
Yvette Cooper MP, the committee’s chair, said:
“Making the wrong decision on detention can have a devastating impact on people’s lives – as we saw from the Windrush scandal, but also from many other cases. The lack of any time limit and of proper judicial safeguards has allowed the Home Office to drift and delay, leaving people stuck in detention for months who really shouldn’t be there at all.”Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of Home Affairs Committee
Ending indefinite detention
The report strongly recommends bringing an end to indefinite immigration detention by implementing a maximum 28-day time limit. Any extension should only be made in exceptional circumstances and with prior judicial approval.
Giving evidence to the enquiry, one Manchester These Walls Must Fall campaigner talked of the trauma of not knowing:
“Even if you go in there as a normal person the lack of a time limit is another trauma that you go through, because you don’t know when you’re going to get out.”Manchester These Walls Must Fall campaigner
People are deprived of their liberty and locked up solely on the decision of a Home Office caseworker, who has never even seen the person. The Hasc report recommends that any detention should be subjected to authorisation by a judge within 72 hours, in line with other areas of UK law.
Safeguarding of vulnerable people
There is mountains of evidence of the harm caused to people by immigration detention. People with vulnerabilities going in can suffer terrible, long lasting harm. People in good mental health going in to detention can emerge as a vulnerable person. The Home Office introduced measures to deal with this longstanding issue, with the Adults at Risk policy. This policy has been found to have failed, and in many cases made things worse for vulnerable people.
“Many people that have depression, it gets worse when they are in detention. Everyone in detention is vulnerable.”
“Even after they release you, the trauma, the anxiety, it’s still there.”Manchester These Walls Must Fall campaigners
This report by MPs is yet another to highlight the urgent need for a root and branch overhaul of the immigration and asylum system. This system lets people down, isolates and criminalises them in a hostile environment which leads, ultimately, to detention in prison-like conditions. If you have not lived through this, lived with the constant threat of being locked up without time limit, it is hard to imagine the suffering. This suffering goes on even after release.
“We live all the time in our houses like a detention centre. They know where we live, where we stay, where we sleep – why do they take a person in a detention centre like a jail?”Manchester These Walls Must Fall campaigner
It is unacceptable, unjustifiable, and cannot be fixed by tinkering. Detention simply has to end. The first step can be to bring in judicial oversight and a strict time limit, while we work towards removing the power of the Home Office to lock people up for reasons of immigration administration and enforcement.