Indefinite Immigration Detention: A national scandal

An amendment to limit detention to 28 days is to be debated within days. Irfan Chowdhury from the Campaigns Team at Hastings Community of Sanctuary describes the reality of this inhumane practice, and explains how to support this amendment.

The UK is currently the only country in Europe which has no time limit on immigration detention.

This means that people can be detained for however long the Home Office decides, without charge or trial. Last year more than 27,000 people were detained, of whom over 14,000 were released back into the community – their detention having served no purpose at all – after the days, weeks, months or even years they had been held.

Around half of the people in immigration detention are those who have sought asylum and not been successful, and thus awaiting removal. However, thousands have been wrongly detained as they are in fact still going through the appeals process. The vast majority of this group have committed no crime whatsoever.

Image of detention by Safwa Chowdhury.

The other half are people who have previously had visas or other forms of leave to remain that have expired without being renewed, renewing and extending visas can be very difficult and costly; people who have served prison sentences and are now facing deportation, including those who came to the UK at a very young age and have committed minor crimes, such as non-violent burglary and drug offences and undocumented immigrants, people who have not been able to obtain the correct paperwork, for a variety of reasons.

The UK is currently the only country in Europe which has no time limit on immigration detention.

Survivors of torture, trafficking and sexual assault are routinely held in immigration detention centres and the conditions that they are subjected to are shocking. Amnesty International outlines one case in its report A Matter Of Routine: the story of ‘Angela’ and her husband who were detained after they sought asylum in the UK.

Angela had been tortured and raped by policemen in her home country. While in immigration detention, she witnessed two dramatic suicide attempts by fellow detainees within days of each other and as a result, went into a state of shock that, as the Amnesty report describes, ‘induced a severe breakdown, leaving her functionally mute, immobile, unable to eat and experiencing flashbacks of the abuse she had suffered’.

She is not alone in such a reaction. Indefinite detention has a devastating impact on the mental health of detainees; as of 2017, incidents of self-harm in immigration detention centres were more than one a day. In January 2019, the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report on the immigration detention system quoted former detainees as describing the arbitrary nature of their detention and the uncertainty that it involved as ‘mental torture’.

Again, in March 2019, the Home Affairs Committee published a similar report which concluded that: “the indefinite nature of detention traumatises those who are being held”.

Both reports called for the introduction of a maximum 28-day time limit on immigration detention. For a direct testimony of detention experience and its legacy of indefinite mental trauma, you can watch here the heart-rending story of a young man who visited Hastings last year on the Refugee Tales walk, in which about 150 people, former detainees and others from the community walked together across East Sussex. He too was terribly disturbed by the constant suicide attempts he witnessed. The UK has been condemned for its use of indefinite immigration detention on human rights grounds by Amnesty International, the British Medical Association and the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

There is now an opportunity to put an end to this inhumane practice; the Conservative MP David Davis has tabled an amendment to the Immigration Bill which will institute:

  • A 28-day time limit on immigration detention;
  • Automatic judicial oversight of detention decisions after 72 hours;
  • An end to the detention of vulnerable people.

If passed, this amendment will be a massive step forward in protecting the rights of detainees. It could be debated as early as Tuesday (June 30th) and our MP for Hastings and Rye, Sally Ann-Hart, has stated that she will be carefully examining its contents.

It is crucial that as many of us as possible write to her over the coming days to ask her to vote in favour of the amendment. You can do so via https://www.writetothem.com/, or email her directly.

Further information on the Hastings Community of Sanctuary website (click here) and here, and on our Instagram page (click here)

3 thoughts on “Indefinite Immigration Detention: A national scandal

  1. This is an excellent and very moving article. Indefinite Detention is so inhumane. it is shocking that the UK is the only European country that has this terrible traumatising practice. Please Sally Ann Hart vote to introduce the 28 day limit.

  2. whilst i do agree in principle that there should be a process to make there are no-one is detained for an excessive period of time. i dont think your painting a fair picture at all. for one example you state days, weeks ,months and even years. can you give me a rough number of how many have been held for years please? also those who came on a visa which had then expired should be detained and returned to theyre country of origin.. there are conditions to being granted a visa, im sure if they abide by it they would have no issues getting another. if they had wanted to apply for asylum, thats perfectly fine.they should aapply at the earlist time they can on arrivel. i dont think an application for asylum should be permit if its made after they have been detained because theyre visa has expired. as for undocumented is a very basic way of playing the the system. if they have no identifacation or passport then they should be detained until at a minemum they have satisfied some sort of who they are. you also say it can be difficult to renew an visa for those who have served a prison sentance followed by for minor offences. you do not get custodial sentances for minor offences. your being deliberatly misleading. as for the frequent reference to ‘inhumane’ im pretty certin no-one is being starved of food or the such. to be blunt the fact we’re the only counry in europe that has this policy is of no relavence. i am no fan of the tories or labour but your making it sound as though the U.K. goverment has this policy for no other reason but to be cruel or something. which is just childish of you really. there must be reasons why they have gone down the route they have. iwould just like to add lastly i am 100% infavour of giving sanctury for those who need it.

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