LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Britain’s immigration detention system fosters a “culture of death” and the practice should be ended, according the country’s leading Catholic refugee agency.
On Sunday, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK issued a new report, Detained and Dehumanized: The Impact of Immigration Detention, documenting the effects of placing people in detention centers for immigration matters.
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 UK is the only European country without a statutory time limit on immigration detention.
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The new JRS UK report is based on the experiences of over two dozen people who have been detained or threatened with detention by the UK government on immigration grounds, and found that detention has a “deep and lasting impact,” affecting mental and physical health, the way one interacts with the world, and the sense of self and of one’s humanity.
“Its trauma stretches beyond the period of detention, to be re-lived indefinitely over the years to come. Torture survivors experience detention as torture. They and others speak of detention as a kind of dying, and indeed detention fosters a culture of death where suicidal ideation is commonplace,” the report says.
The report says that even short periods of detention are “traumatic,” and longer periods especially so. It also faults the Home Office – the UK government department in charge of immigration matters – for a lack of accountability when it comes to immigration detention.
“The prospect of detention and re-detention creates fear that shapes life long after release, punctuating it more sharply as the time to report approaches. Detention denies people basic goods: freedom, community, ability to contribute to society and participate in family life and legal processes. Detention is a context in which communication and engagement are thwarted,” the report says.
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The report calls for an end to the use of detention for the purpose of immigration control, saying it is “incompatible with a humane and just immigration and asylum system.”
Sarah Teather, the director of JRS UK said the report provides damning evidence of the tragic and dehumanizing effects” of the use of immigration detention.
“It is clear from those interviewed that being physically detained, as well as the looming threat of detention, irreversibly impact mental and physical wellbeing and cause life-long pain and trauma,” she said.
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 staff at JRS UK regularly encounter vulnerable individuals who are subjected to detention through an arbitrary process,” and who are caught in a complex web of dehumanizing policies.”
“Far from being a last resort, the use of these punitive and devastating powers has become so automatic that it has been normalized. Immigration detention is a harmful process that obstructs the fundamental right to family, community, participation and life,” Teather said.
Abuses described in the report included the use of disproportionate force when detaining individuals, the denial of food and water for extended periods of time, the failure to disclose pertinent information, as well as physical abuse and sexual harassment in detention facilities.
JRS UK says for as long as immigration detention continues to be used by the Home Office, several reforms should be made, including: Introducing a mandatory time limit of 28 days or less for all those detained under immigration powers and ensuring the decision to detain must go before a judge and be independent of the Home Office.
The JRS report comes a year after Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee issued a scathing report describing how asylum seekers and other immigrants in the UK have been wrongfully detained, held in detention when they are vulnerable, and detained for too long,
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The House of Commons will be debating the Immigration and Social Security (EU withdrawal) Bill on June 30, including an amendment proposed by David Davis, a member of Parliament from the ruling Conservative Party, to reform the country’s immigration detention system.
Davis’s proposal would put a 28-day time limit on immigration detention, with judicial oversight of detention after 96 hours. For JRS UK, this would be a first step to ending the practice.
“The time for government to end this cruel and inhumane practice is long over-due,” Teather said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome