WHEN Chibong, a 28-year-old Nigerian, told the Betty Boothroyd
room in Portcullis House that he has been in Colnbrook Centre for
three years, there was an eruption. "Three years?" "No!" A woman in
the third row had her head in her hands. The MPs present looked
Chibong was giving evidence via telephone to the first evidence
of a parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention, held by the
All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration.
He described how he was trafficked, aged 16, to Hungary, where
he was put in a basement, beaten, raped and tortured. He escaped,
and eventually found his way to London. He was arrested in 2010,
and sent to Colnbrook.
Eight attempts have been made to deport him, but a land dispute
between Nigeria and Cameroon has made this impossible. The Red
Cross has spent two years trying to trace his family. He doesn't
know whether they are alive. He has been diagnosed with
post-traumatic stress disorder and referred for cognitive
behavioural therapy, but has yet to receive treatment. The highest
possible dose of medication has been prescribed instead.
The UK has one of the largest networks of immigration detention
facilities in Europe: at any one time, there are between 2000 and
3000 migrants in detention. They are held while their applications
are being processed, or have been refused. About half are
asylum-seekers. About 94 per cent of detainees are held for less
than four months. But last year, 50 were detained for more than two
The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, told the inquiry
that the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers had "worsened
considerably" in the past decade. Detention, once a last resort,
had become a "routine . . . part of the denigration of the whole
concept of the refugee". There were examples of "brutal and even
lethal force" being used to remove people from the country;
furthermore legal advice for detainees was not consistenly
available, and hearings were not automatic.
The director of Detention Action, Jerome Phelps, called for the
UK to follow the example of "every other developed country" in
setting a time-limit on detention, ideally 28 days. The charity
estimates that, every year, £76 million is wasted by detaining
migrants who are ultimately released.
Former detainees gave evidence. Maimuna Jawo described how she
had fled Gambia in 2009 after refusing to support the practice of
female genital mutiliation. She sought asylum in 2012 and was taken
to Yarlswood. "I never committed any crime," she said. "The only
thing I was asking for was protection."
She was highly critical of the practice of suicide watch, and
said that guards could be overheard discussing women's bodies and
laughing. This claim was corroborated by Alice, who described how
guards denied a doctor's request to speak to her alone.
Two psychiatrists called to give evidence were highly critical
of the present system. The head of therapies at the Helen Bamber
Foundation, Dr Katy Robjant, described how the experience of
detention had a particularly harmful effect on those who had
previously experienced torture. Those suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder were unable to distinguish between the past and
present, and thus would struggle to provide consistent information
during interviews assessing their asylum claim.
The director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, Dr Cornelius
Katona, said that the process of suicide watch was "distressing,
dehumanising, and increases the risk".
The Inquiry continues and is still seeking evidence.