LEICESTER, United Kingdom – An English bishop is calling on the UK government to release people being held in immigration detention centers.
In a letter to the UK Home Secretary, Bishop Paul McAleenan – the point man for migrant and refugee issues for the Catholic Bishops ‘Conference of England and Wales – said those being held are at “extreme risk” during the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic since they have “limited opportunities for social distancing and self-isolating which is contrary to the public health instructions of the government.”
The Home Office is responsible for immigration and policing issues in Britain.
Immigration detention centers do not hold criminals, but either asylum seekers trying to establish their identity, or undocumented immigrants waiting to be deported.
According to the Guardian, around 300 detainees have already been released during the crisis, although an estimated 900 people are still being held in the facilities.
“These people have not been charged with any crime and do not pose a risk to the wider public. It is they who are now at risk of infection, due to their detention in close proximity to one another,” McAleenan writes.
“After this pandemic, questions will inevitably be asked about steps taken by the government to protect the health and rights of the most vulnerable people, including whether the government applied its own instructions and guidelines to those for whom they were responsible,” the bishop continued.
Earlier this month, dozens of organizations – including the Jesuit Refugee Service UK – sent a joint letter to the UK government asking for more support to be given to asylum seekers in Britain.
Currently, asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their claim for refugee status is processed and are given a stipend of around $50 a week.
“Even before the Coronavirus outbreak, people on asylum support struggled to meet their essential living needs on an amount of support far lower than mainstream benefits, leading to extremely difficult decisions on what to prioritize amongst essential expenditure. Asylum seekers, including torture survivors and other highly vulnerable people, tell us that, in the current context, they are finding it even harder to buy the items that they need to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe,” the letter states.
The signatories are calling on the government to immediately increase the stipend by about 50 percent, and for the allowance to be paid in cash.
“We also urge that the need for additional financial support be kept under review during the pandemic. It is especially vital that everyone is able to safely and securely sustain themselves and their family at this time. We must ensure that no one is left behind during our collective efforts to overcome this virus,” the letter says.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome