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MPs’ report castigates ‘inhumane’ Home Office for immigration failures

21 March 2019


A UK Border Force officer, in 2017

A UK Border Force officer, in 2017

THE Home Office has “utterly failed” in almost every area of the immigration detention process, and has shown a “general lack of humanity” for the thousands of people it detains in the UK, often unlawfully, the Home Affairs Committee has concluded.

In a damning report, published on Wednesday, it states that the “shockingly cavalier attitude” of the Home Office to its own policies and procedures has led to hundreds of people being wrongfully detained, vulnerable people being held in immigration, and people being unnecessarily detained for too long.

In 2017, the Home Office held 27,819 people, including asylum-seekers, children, pregnant women, and elderly people, and survivors of torture, trafficking, and rape. As of June that year, the longest length of time a person had been detained was 1514 days (Comment, 16 February 2018).

Case-working delays in asylum decisions, appeals, and documentation, “a weak administrative process and a serious lack of judicial oversight” had deprived people of their freedom, dignity, and basic human rights, the committee found.

There is currently no legal limit in the UK to how long people can be held in immigration detention. A judge is not required to authorise incarceration.

The Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, said: “Reform is needed urgently to ensure the immigration detention system is fair, works sensibly, is transparent and humane. The Home Office approach to immigration detention is careless and cavalier — including casework failures, insufficient judicial safeguards, and a general lack of humanity in the system.

“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 we have seen.”

The report recommends that the Government ends indefinite detention by implementing a maximum 28-day time limit, as well as a “robust” series of frequent checks and safeguards. It also calls for the initial detention decision to be reviewed by a judge within 72 hours.

The Roman Catholic organisation the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) said that the Government must act immediately to limit the use of immigration detention.

The UK director of JRS, Sarah Teather, said: “The UK detains far too many people for far too long. At JRS UK we regularly encounter vulnerable individuals who are subjected to the indignity of detention through an arbitrary process, and who are caught in a complex web of dehumanising policies.”

Ms Teather is a former Liberal Democrat MP and Minister for Children and Families in the Coalition Government (Features, 15 June 2018). She left Parliament for JRS in 2013, two months after revealing in an interview with The Guardian that an internal working group on immigration had existed in Government called the “Hostile Environment Working Group”.

Responding to the report on Wednesday, she said: “In our experience, previous convictions are often as a direct result of trafficking, or due to the criminalisation of a myriad of every-day activities by the hostile environment agenda. The forced destitution of asylum seekers traps individuals, restricting their ability to make decisions within the confines of the law.”

One of the committee’s strongest criticisms of the Home Office is the “unnecessary, inhumane, and harmful” treatment of detainees.

An investigation published by The Guardian in January found that ten ambulances a week had been called to detention centres in 2017, for issues including overdoses and suicide attempts (News, 4 January). There were 522 ambulance visits to six centres that year: up 43 per cent from 365 in 2014. Other reported problems included burns, psychiatric episodes, and miscarriage.

The committee urges the Government to introduce a “thorough, face-to-face pre-detention screening process” to disclose effectively any vulnerability. It also calls for improved safeguarding of individuals and families by reverting to the previous policy of a presumption not to detain individuals except in exceptional circumstances as a last resort.

The Government must also ensure that all immigration removal centres have robust and effective whistle-blowing procedures, it says, which staff and detainees can use with “complete confidence” and know that they will be fully protected.

A Home Office spokesperson denied that the system detained people indefinitely. “Detention is an important part of our immigration system — but it must be fair, humane, and used only when absolutely necessary.

“We do not detain people indefinitely, and the law does not allow it — most people detained under immigration powers spend only short periods in detention. . . We are committed to going further and faster with reforms to immigration detention and a comprehensive cross-government programme of work is in hand to deliver on that commitment.”

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