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Church censures prison-like detention

21 November 2014


Credit: PA Caption: Opposition: Movement for Justice protesters on the steps of the Home Office call for an end to illegal Fast Track deportations and the freeing of detainees arrested for protesting them, in August

Credit: PA Caption: Opposition: Movement for Justice protesters on the steps of the Home Office call for an end to illegal Fast Track dep...

THE holding of asylum-seekers in conditions more like prison, with no obvious end to their detention, is causing stress and insecurity, an official C of E submission has told the Government.

In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention, the Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Archbishops' Council says: "While not opposed to detention in principle, we recognise its severe impact on people and families, and want to ensure that conditions are humane. We believe that Immigration Removal Centres [IRCs] should be as little as possible like prisons."

It points out that accommodation built in the past ten years at Harmondsworth, Colnbrook, and at Brook House, Gatwick, are "not just prison-like, they look like a prison - harsh straight lines, built to high-security standards, bare of anything to soften the feel of the interior.

"It sounds like a prison - large echoing open wings. It feels like a prison - the attempts to call the places where the detainees sleep a 'room' is confounded by the fact that they are manifestly cells. The toilets have no seats, just a solid steel bowl. . . That toilet is inside the cell. In many cases, the detainees . . . have to eat in those cells."

The submission also expresses concern that the Inspectorate of Prisons no longer carries out a "safety survey" among detainees. It says: "We normally think of safety in detention as a matter of not fearing assault, intimidation, discrimination. However, what detainees consistently reported as most likely to make them feel unsafe was the lack of certainty about their case."

An automatic bail hearing after seven and then 35 days - as provided for by law in 1999, but never brought into effect - would help, the submission says. It also suggests that the lack of a legal time-limit is adding to the backlog of cases. "There is little pressure on case-workers to progress cases as quickly as possible. The monthly letters sent to each detainee about their continuing detention often seem to record little or no activity since the previous month."

The submission insists that faith provision should continue as it has in the past. "Faith is for many people held in detention a very important part of their resources for enduring the experience," it says.

Charity calls for end to child detention. A report published this week stated that 203 immigrant children were detained in England last year, including 70 aged under five.

The report, State of Children's Rights in England 2014, from the charity Children's Rights Alliance for England, calls for an end to the detention of children and the locking up of parents.

It says that the Home Office is considering using physical force to remove asylum-seeking and migrant children from the UK, in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention also states that children should never be separated from parents for the purposes of immigration control.

The research and policy manager at the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, Sarah Campbell, said: "The psychological distress experienced by children in immigration detention is well documented. Children who are split from detained parents describe losing weight, having nightmares, crying frequently, and becoming deeply unhappy.

"We urge the Government to implement this report's recommendations without delay."

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