A NEW parliamentary inquiry has called for a 28-day cap on the
time that anyone can be held in immigration detention in the UK, to
end the indefinite detention of migrants and asylum-seekers.
The All Party Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in
the UK said that current Home Office guidance - which said that
detention should be used sparingly - was ineffective, and was not
The Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, who chaired the inquiry,
said: "We believe the problems that beset our immigration detention
estate occur quite simply because we detain far too many people
unnecessarily, and for far too long. The current system is
expensive, ineffective, and unjust."
The inquiry's report, published on Tuesday, said that detention
should only be an "absolute last resort", and be used only to
ensure a person was removed from the country after being denied
leave to remain. The UK is currently the only country in the EU not
to have an upper time limit on detention. Portugal and Spain have
60-day limits, whereas Ireland has a 21-day upper limit.
The inquiry took evidence from dozens of current and former
detainees, including one man who had been in detention for three
years. The report said that there were "gasps of horror" from the
panel as they heard some of the detainees' stories. None of them
knew when they might be released from detention - a fact that
caused them significant trauma.
The inquiry found that prolonged detention (30 days or more) had
a serious impact on detainees' mental health, which led, in turn,
to considerable costs to the taxpayer.
The inquiry panel included a former inspector of prisons, Sir
David Ramsbotham, and peers and MPs from all parties. Three members
of the panel visited Sweden to discuss the part played by detention
in its immigration system, and they heard that there was a focus on
"allowing people to leave with their heads held high". They noted
that the experience of detainees in the UK was the opposite of
The chief executive of the Refugee Council, Maurice Wren, said
that the inquiry had shone "a bright light . . . into the darkest
corners of the British immigration system and . . . revealed some
The report's recommendations included: that prisons should not
be used as detention centres; that the blanket ban on social media
in centres be ended; that access to health care for inmates be
improved; and that those with a mental-health condition should be
detained only under very exceptional circumstances.
Victims of trafficking or torture should be not be detained at
all; neither should women who were victims of rape or sexual
violence; nor pregnant women.
The report calls on the Government to consider community-based
The latest figures available show that 3462 people were in
detention at the end of last year, 24 per cent higher than the
previous 12 months. Of those, 397 had been detained for longer than
six months, 108 for more than a year, and 18 for longer than two
About half of those in immigration detention were
asylum-seekers; others were migrants who were waiting to be removed
from the UK, and those who, it was thought, might abscond if left
The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, who also
chairs the Churches' Refugee Network, said that the report was a
"searing indictment of the UK practice".
In a statement the Network emphasised that indefinite detention
should be abolished. "All people who seek sanctuary should be
treated with dignity and respect. It is shocking that the
Inquiry has found so many instances of this not being so in
Britain," it said.
Ruth Grove-White, of the Migrants Rights Network, said: "By
creating a hostile environment for migrants at any cost, the
Government risks alienating communities for decades to come."
She welcomed the group's recommendations, especially the 28-day
time limit. "This would have a tremendous impact on the lives of
those currently held indefinitely, without any knowledge of when
they might be released, and at the mercy of the Home Office."
Dr Juliet Cohen, who is head of doctors at Freedom from Torture
and a frequent visitor to immigration detention centres, said: "The
report gives an unflinching critique of the UK's immigration
detention system. Our doctors regularly examine torture survivors
who have been wrongly detained under the immigration rules, and
whose health, we believe, has been significantly adversely affected
by this experience. In extreme cases, our clients have turned to
self-harm or attempted suicide after experiencing retraumatisation
All-Party Parliamentary Inquiries are informal cross-party
groups that have no official status.