BRITAIN DETAINED – Immigration detention in the UK

A powerful and important documentary film by Ross Field of Videoblogg Productions

According to the Home Office, in 2017 alone more than 27,000 people were entered into the eight detention centres across the UK. 47% were asylum seekers. 56% of those detained were released back into the UK.

They are held in the equivalent of Category B security prisons pending removal or deportation, but also many are held just while being assessed on whether they have a right to remain in the UK. In these prisons, they are denied liberty and separated from friends, family and support networks. Rooms are shared with strangers, and asylum seekers can be paired with convicted criminals, or with a person from a different country or tribe with whom there is long-standing conflict.

All other EU members have detention limits, but in the UK there are no such rules, and according to Nicola Burgess (Legal Director, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants) “There’s instances of people who have been detained FOR YEARS”. Celia Clarke (Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees) speaks of clients who have been detained for FIVE YEARS.

It costs the public £34,000 per year to detain someone. People detained have offered to buy plane tickets to leave, but once they are in detention the Home Office has full control over when they are released.

According to Stephen Shaw CBE (Former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman), many detainees have described it as worse than prison, because they don’t have the luxury of a release date – instead of counting down the days to release, they can only count UP the days they have been held – “a hugely traumatic experience”. Suicide and self-harm is endemic [there were 446 self-harm incidents in 2017 according to No Deportations], and 14 suicides since 2000 [Inquest figures]. Nearly 3000 detainees were on suicide watch during 2015 according to figures published in The Guardian.

A Home Office policy to reduce the detention of vulnerable people is not working, according to Natasha Walter (Director, Women for Refugee Women), and women who have been trafficked, raped or tortured are still routinely being locked up, as are pregnant women. Although child detention has dropped over the past few years, there were still 42 children imprisoned during 2017. Critics say the Home Office is not pro-active enough in identifying women at risk, instead relying on a system of self-reporting once in detention – the detainee has to request a ‘Rule 35 report’ which is a doctor’s assessment of claims of torture and rape. But according to Dr Frank Arnold (Medical Justice Network), this is often “utterly cursory”, citing cases of serious omission, and failure to identify tuberculosis, extreme hypertension, and other obvious medical conditions.

Leila Zadeh (Director, UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group) reports that LGBTQ detainees have been denied essential HIV medicine and sometimes face harassment and discrimination.

Staff are poorly trained, poorly paid, and poorly managed, often drawn directly from the prison system, so they have the mentality of dealing with criminals. Former detainees describe that abuse of power is widespread and there are no functional systems to challenge or report such abuse.

The detention centres are run by private companies including scandal-ridden G4S and Serco, awarded multi-million contracts by the Home Office. Over the past few years that same Home Office has been operating the infamous ‘hostile environment’ agenda and promising but failing to substantially reduce net migration, while forcing more and more people such as landlords, doctors, and bank managers into becoming ’border officials’. As a result there are cases where people have been too frightened to seek medical help, and we’re talking about people who have a legitimate right to remain here, but terrified that, like those caught up in the Windrush scandal, they may end up being detained and unlawfully removed, just for seeking medical treatment.

With Brexit potentially on the horizon, there is also uncertainty surrounding the 3 million EU nationals who are currently living in the UK, and already the government is detaining and removing thousands of them – more than 5000 in 2017.

Many countries, even those with very strict immigration policies, use a community-based approach, so instead of being imprisoned, migrants are supported in the community while their cases are being assessed. Stephen Shaw CBE (Former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman) says that this approach is not only more humanitarian, but is also found to be more effective.

Given that only half the people in detention are eventually removed, the cost-effectiveness of that detention must surely be questioned, aside from all the humanitarian concerns.

Stephen Shaw CBE – Former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman:
“We are a country that has prided itself on welcoming people who are seeking asylum, fleeing conflict, fleeing persecution, and ensuring that their applications are considered properly”.

Former detainee (granted asylum after 9 months detention):
“You are going to sign, and you’re taken, detained, arrested, put in a van that has no windows, and you’re driven to somewhere you have no idea, your family has no idea…”

Many thanks to Ross Field and Videoblogg Productions for permission to host this important film.