We are the These Walls Must Fall Spokespeople Group in South Yorkshire, and we all have lived experience of UK immigration detention, totalling many years.We have written an Open Letter to the Home Secretary. Priti Patel, which we invite you to sign. To sign, please complete the form.
Open letter to Home Secretary
Rt Hon Priti Patel MP
Dear Home Secretary
We are the These Walls Must Fall Spokespeople Group in South Yorkshire, and we all have lived experience of UK immigration detention, totalling many years.
Whilst we welcome the recent release of people from immigration detention, many remain detained, in increasingly dangerous conditions. We believe this poses a serious health risk to those detained, to those working in detention centres, and to the public. We also believe a great many of these detentions to be unlawful. We are also concerned that you have not yet made public your current detention policies in relation to COVID-19, despite being instructed to by the courts, making it impossible for people to understand or challenge the lawful basis of their detention, as is their right.
We ask you to urgently take action to save lives, support the efforts to stop COVID-19, and prevent unlawful actions by your department.
Public health expert Prof Richard Coker of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has provided evidence that warns that prisons and detention centres provide ideal incubation conditions for the rapid spread of the virus. We know from experience that it is impossible to have spatial distancing or self-isolation in detention. There are a lot of people living closely together. People sharing cells and rooms, multiple people sharing toilets, shower rooms, dining facilities, exercise yards and other spaces.
Based on the facts, statistics, published research, and our own personal experiences, we do not believe that people who contract the virus in detention will receive adequate medical attention. There is a well-documented “culture of disbelief” among detention staff, which impedes access to appropriate healthcare. This will put their lives at risk, and will contribute to spreading infection.
There is a high number of people with underlying health problems in detention. Research backs up our own experience that periods in detention cause mental and physical health to deteriorate. The longer someone is in detention, the more likely it is that they will contract COVID-19, and the more likely that infection will be serious and life-threatening.
The recently published report of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration revealed many significant failures of the “Adults at Risk in Immigration Detention” policy. We know from this report, and from our experiences, that high numbers of vulnerable people continue to be routinely detained. Vulnerable people exist across the detention estate, and their lives are being put at more risk and danger of abuse, neglect, harm and death by being there. Especially in the current pandemic situation.
We also believe many of these continued detentions to be unlawful. The purpose of immigration detention is to temporarily hold individuals whose deportation is imminent. We know that there are people that have been held for over a period of 12 months in a situation that defeats the notion of imminent removal. At this time, countries are enforcing travel and border restrictions in response to the pandemic, which means you are not able to remove people from the country.
People do not even know the basis of their ongoing detention, as your current policy has not been made public. Access to legal representation is severely limited, as lawyers cannot visit their clients. To deprive someone of their liberty is one of the most serious powers of the state. To do so without judicial oversight, without providing any clear reason, and without access to legal representation to examine and challenge the basis of detention, goes entirely against the concept of justice.
For the sake of public health, equality and justice, we demand the immediate release of everyone held under immigration detention powers.
We await your response,
Our full statement:
Whilst we welcome the recent release of people from immigration detention, many remain. We believe this is a serious health risk to them, as well as in many cases being unlawful. Keeping people in detention puts their lives, and the lives of people working there at risk. It contravenes public health advice, and undermines efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Tens of thousands of lives are being lost due to the current pandemic. If we are all to stay safe, the coronavirus ought to be fought on equal footing irrespective of perceived nationality, race or ethnicity. Government strict measures aim to decrease the transmission rate of Covid-19, however, sadly, it is obvious that it is practically impossible to implement all of the same protective measures in immigration detention/removal centres (IRC) as outside of them.
Dishearteningly, there is ample evidence and reasons to believe that there have not been proper safety measures in place in the detention centres so far. Shamefully, the coronavirus has further exposed the inequality and unfairness in our society. We ask you to release all people from immigration detention with immediate effect.
Our concerns are shared by many, including professor Richard Coker from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who says, “Covid-19 poses a serious threat to life in immigration detention centres. Lawyers and campaigners agree. The solution should be to release everyone. In the recent weeks, hundreds have been released, which according to people in the centres, is leaving more guards than people to guard. But hundreds continue to be held despite the known risks.”
It is impossible for prison or IRC setups to have social isolation as recommended by the government. There are a lot of people living closely together. Two or more unrelated people share a room; multiple people sharing toilets, shower rooms, dining room facilities, exercise yards and other spaces within the detention centres. We know this because we have been detained there. One of our group says of his time in Brook House IRC, “it is a very dangerous place. It is a prison, they make two people share the same room. At this moment that makes it very dangerous.”
This is not safe. It is very important for the people detained and people working inside to have proper social distancing and that is not possible in immigration detention.
In addition, recent data and analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows that there are disproportionate death rates among people of black and asian minority ethnicities with cause of death established as Covid-19; indicative of detainees from such groups being several times more likely to die from the virus than people of white ethnicity.
In spite of the government’s own ‘Adults at Risk in Immigration Detention’ policy, which precludes the detention of people with serious health issues and disabilities, we know that many in these categories are routinely detained. Vulnerable people exist across the detention estate,are all over detention centers whereand their lives are being put at more risk and danger of abuse, neglect, harm and death by being there. Especially when viruses and deseace are easily contracted and spread. With this current circumstances of Coronavirus (covid19) closing down these centres is only paramount.
One of us suffers from PTSD, depression and anxiety for many years and osteoarthritis on both knees meaning she can barely walk. While in detention, she had to live in much pain and suffered greatly due to abuse, neglect and lack of medical care. The medical teams at detention centres are ridiculously poor, with not enough access to [critical] medical treatments or medication. Her time in Morton Hall and Yarls Wood left her with more pain, and she had to wait four weeks to see a doctor there. The wrong medication was given to her and she had to wait for many more weeks for the medicines to be changed. As she anxiously waited for her blood pressure medication to be given, her health deteriorated.
Based on the facts, the statistics, previous practice, and our own experiences, we do not believe that people who contract the virus in detention will receive adequate medical attention and will be at risk of death.
It is a fact that the risk of infection is greater in closed institutions like prisons and immigration detention centres, as demonstrated by the high incidence of infection in Residential and Nursing Homes.
Your department, the Home Office, is not releasing adequate data on the impact of Covid-19 on people in immigration detention. However, we know that there are wide reports of shortages of PPE nationally, increasing the risk.
We also believe many of these continued detentions to be unlawful. The purpose of immigration detention is to temporarily hold individuals whose deportation is imminent. We know that there are people that have been held for over a period of 12 months in a situation that defeats the notion of imminent removal. At this time, countries are enforcing travel and border restrictions in response to the pandemic, which means you are not able to deport people from the country. Detention cannot be lawful if you are unable to deport. We expect your urgent response to this point and ask for the immediate release of all people from immigration detention .
We the undersigned ask that you immediately release of all remaining people held in immigration detention and provide suitable accommodation, for all who need it, that allows for social distancing. The government should work with local authorities to identify suitable, safe housing of decent quality.
We demand that you provide us with statistics of infected people in detention centres, and the details of any deaths in 2020 including cause of death.
We also demand to see the numbers of tests carried out in detention centres so far, on staff and people detained.
We demand the immediate release of everyone held in immigration detention (both those in IRCs and held in prisons for immigration purposes).
These Walls Must Fall Yorkshire Spokesperson Group
On 1 Jan there were 1225 detained in IRCs, and 307 detained in prisons. On 21 April there were 368 persons detained in IRCs and 340 detained in prisons.