LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Asylum seekers and other immigrants in the UK have been wrongfully detained, held in detention when they are vulnerable, and detained for too long, according to a scathing new report issued by Home Affairs Committee of the British parliament, which was released on Thursday.
The parliamentary committee began an inquiry in the British government’s immigrant detention policies after the “appalling physical and verbal abuse of detainees” at the Brook House Immigration Removal Centre was exposed in 2017, along with other reports of the damaging effects on the mental health and wellbeing of detainees.
Immigrants can be detained in the UK if they are waiting for permission to enter the country or if they are subject to deportation. Often, these immigrants are involved in legal proceedings to get the right to stay in the UK, and so may be detained for long periods of time, even years. The process is not a criminal proceeding, but an administrative procedure.
Detainees are a mix of people who may be in the UK unlawfully such as people who have overstayed their visa, asylum seekers, and foreign national offenders (FNOs), who have been convicted of a crime.
The report said inefficiencies in the process —for example lengthy delays in asylum decisions, appeals and documentation—unnecessarily prolonged people’s detention.
“While the indefinite nature of detention traumatizes those who are being held, it also means that there is no pressure on the Home Office and on the immigration system to make swift decisions on individuals’ cases,” the report says.
The UK Home Office, which has the same responsibilities as the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, oversees immigration matters in the country.
“There is a rapidly growing consensus amongst medical professionals, independent inspectorate bodies, people with lived experience and other key stakeholders on the urgent need for a maximum time limit. Lengthy immigration detention is unnecessary, inhumane and causes harm,” the report continues.
The UK is the only European country without a statutory time limit on immigration detention.
“Immigration officials who are tasked with detaining and removing people from the UK face making difficult decisions on a daily basis. But too often the Home Office has shown a shockingly cavalier attitude to the deprivation of human liberty and the protection of people’s basic rights,” the report reads.
The director of the Jesuit Refugee Services UK, Sarah Teather, said the new report “provides further damning evidence” that the government is making excessive use of immigration detention.
“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 dehumanizing policies,” she said.
“We have regularly encountered individuals whose vulnerabilities should prevent them from ever being detained, including survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery. And for those who may have not displayed vulnerabilities before entering detention, the current indefinite nature almost definitely results in vulnerabilities,” she continued.
Teather served as a member of the UK Parliament from 2003-2015 and was Minister of State for Children and Families from 2010-2012.
During her time in government, Teather led the negotiations to stop the detention of children in the immigration system, and later chaired a parliamentary group focused on support for refugees, including the issue of detention.
She said Thursday’s report echoed the findings of the cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry into Immigration Detention she chaired in 2015. “Far from being a last resort, the use of these punitive and devastating powers has become so automatic that it has been normalized,” Teather said.
JRS UK published a report in October 2018 documenting a number of individuals who were recognized victims of human trafficking being detained by the Home Office.
“The committee’s research highlights the urgent need for an end to indefinite detention for everyone, and the dangers of applying different standards to those classed as Foreign National Offenders. In our experience, previous convictions are often as a direct result of one’s trafficking or due to the criminalization 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,” Teather said.
The Conservative Party government has come under fire for its “hostile environment” stance against illegal immigration, which often entangles people who have the legal right to be in the country.
This was highlighted during last year’s Windrush scandal, when thousands of immigrants from Britain’s former colonies suddenly found themselves unable to get housing or jobs and threatened with deportation because they lacked proof of their entry into the country decades earlier – proof which was later discovered to have been destroyed by the government in a records clear-out.
In response, the government promised to be “more compassionate” towards immigrants.