LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Britain’s leading Catholic refugee agency is concerned after the death of a Nigerian man at an immigrant detention center last week.

Authorities have launched an investigation into the death of Oscar Okwurime, who died on Sept. 12, reportedly soon after having received his plane ticket returning him to Nigeria. No official cause of death has been released.

Harmondsworth Detention Centre near London’s Heathrow Airport is the largest such facility in Europe.

“We are concerned and deeply saddened to hear the news of a further death in detention. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Okuremi’s family and friends at this awful time, and indeed with those who knew him in detention,” said Sarah Teather, the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK.

“We know from our experience of outreach into detention that detainees often feel forgotten and left behind. The news of a death in detention, regardless of the circumstances, always causes particular levels of distress for those held in detention. At times of loss like this, we remain steadfast in our commitment to accompany and support those held in indefinite immigration detention,” she said.

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.

The UK is the only country in the European Union which does not have time limits for immigrant detention.

In figures released by the government last month, 71 percent of those leaving detention were held for less than 28 days. However, of those held more than 28 days, 144 were held over six months, and 45 for over a year.

“Immigration detention causes anxiety and confusion and is deeply corrosive on both mental and physical health; often compounding existing vulnerabilities,” Teather said.

“It’s high time for a time limit on immigration detention. A year is far too long for people to be held for administrative convenience, to be isolated from their families and torn from their communities.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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