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Church must speak out on conditions in detention centres, says priest

04 January 2019


Campaigners in Parliament Square call for an end to the detention of women who seek asylum in the UK, on International Women’s Day, in March 2018

Campaigners in Parliament Square call for an end to the detention of women who seek asylum in the UK, on International Women’s Day, in March 201...

THE Church cannot continue to “stand in silence” while conditions in detention centres across the UK continue to deteriorate, a priest and campaigner has said.

An investigation published by The Guardian last week found that ten ambulances a week had been called to detention centres in 2017, for issues including overdoses and suicide attempts. The figures were obtained through freedom-of-information requests from centres large enough to have their own postcodes — about half of the total, the paper reported.

There were 522 ambulance visits to six centres in 2017: up 43 per cent from 365 in 2014. Other treatments included burns, psychiatric episodes, and miscarriage.

The Vicar of St Margaret’s, Rainham, the Revd Nathan Ward, used to work as a manager for G4S, the private outsourcing company that runs the immigration removal centre Brook House, before he left to be ordained in 2014.

Roger VaughanThe Revd Nathan Ward

He said that was not surprised by the investigation’s findings: “This report detailing the number of ambulances called to immigration-removal centres highlights yet again the devastating impact that indefinite detention has on some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“Sadly, these high figures are unsurprising, as the UK has systematically failed to run an effective or humane detention system, which all too often results in people taking their own life or self-harming.”

Mr Ward contributed to a BBC Panorama undercover exposé of Brook House, in 2017, which included footage of officers mocking, abusing, and violently assaulting detainees (News, 8 September 2017).

A group of 17 bishops, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, and representatives of the Methodist and Baptist Churches and the Church of Scotland responded to the programme in a letter to The Daily Telegraph the same year.

It read: “As a nation we must demand better than this — both for our own citizens in whose names this takes place, and for all who find themselves in the system.”

Since then, however, the Church had been largely silent on the subject, Mr Ward said. And, in the past, the General Synod had focused on immigration, not detention.

Last year, women who went on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, in Bedford, in protest at its “inhumane conditions”, were threatened with accelerated deportation by the Home Office (News, 9 March).

Mr Ward continued: “This Government continues instead to spend a lot of money on centres which cause human pain and suffering whilst failing to meet its policy objectives. When presented with the facts of failure, the Home Office simply stand in denial, whilst the Church, on the whole, stands in silence.”

This year, he said, “should be the year in which indefinite detention should be ended and immigration detention be debated in Synod — something which has never been done”.

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