Time for a Time Limit - Parliamentarians call for 28 day maximum time limit on immigration detention


Yarl's  Wood Detention Centrel

Yarl's Wood Detention Centrel

A panel of parliamentarians, including members of the three largest Westminster parties, is publishing a report into the use of immigration detention in the United Kingdom. The members of the panel hold very diverse views about the immigration system as a whole and cover a wide political spectrum. They have come together to carry out an inquiry into the use of immigration detention, the first time a group of parliamentarians has looked at depth at the issue.

A cross-party group of MPs and Peers has recommended that the next government should introduce a maximum time limit of 28 days on the length of time anyone can be detained in immigration detention. The call comes in a report published today following a joint inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK by the APPG on Refugees and the APPG on Migration.

The panel, which included a former Cabinet Minister, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, and a former law lord, considered evidence over eight months, and three panel members visited the Swedish Migration Board to discuss with officials and parliamentarians the role detention plays in the Swedish immigration system.

The inquiry panel conclude that the enforcement-focused culture of the Home Office means that official guidance, which states that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible time, is not being followed, resulting in too many instances of unnecessary detention.

The panel recommend that the UK government should learn from best practice abroad where alternatives to detention are used, which not only allow individuals to live in the community, but which also allow the government to maintain immigration control at a much lower cost to the state.

The panel argues that depriving an individual of their liberty for the purposes of immigration detention should be an absolute last resort and only used to effect removal.

The UK is the only country in the European Union not to have an upper time limit on detention, and the panel conclude that the lack of a time limit has significant mental health costs for detainees, as well as considerable financial costs to the taxpayer.

The panel also:

- recommend that there should be a presumption in favour of community-based resolutions, which focus on intensive engagement with individuals in community settings, rather than relying on enforcement and detention;

- conclude that the Detained Fast Track does not allow asylum seekers to receive the support they need and is not conducive to high quality decision making;

- are concerned that individuals being held under immigration powers are increasingly being held in conditions tantamount to high security prison settings;

- recommend that women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be detained and that pregnant women should never be detained for immigration purposes;

- were shocked by the personal testimony they heard of people suffering from mental health conditions who were detained for prolonged periods of time and conclude that current Home Office policy puts the health of detainees at serious risk;

- recommend that screening processes are improved to ensure that victims of trafficking are not detained and that when GPs complete a Rule 35 report they make a clinical judgement over whether any injuries are consistent with the account of torture; and

- are concerned that current arrangements for challenging continued detention are not working and that many individuals in detention are unable to access high quality legal advice.

Sarah Teather MP, Chair of the inquiry panel and Lib Dem MP for Brent Central, said: “The UK is an outlier in not having a time limit on detention. During the inquiry, we heard about the huge uncertainty this causes people to live with, not knowing if tomorrow they will be released, removed from the country, or continue being in detention.

“As a panel, we have concluded that the current system is expensive, ineffective and unjust. We are calling the next Government to learn from the alternatives to detention that focus on engagement with individuals in their communities, rather than relying on enforcement and deprivation of liberty.”

Paul Blomfield MP, Vice-chair of the panel Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said: “Current Home Office policy is that detention should be used as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. From the evidence that we heard, Home Office standard practice falls well short of this policy.

“In our report, we recommend that far fewer people should be detained, that detention should always be a last resort, and that it should only ever be for a maximum of 28 days. Other countries manage to maintain immigration control without resorting to indefinite detention. So can we.”

David Burrowes MP, a member of the inquiry panel and Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, said: “This inquiry is an unusual one. Immigration is on the political agenda but rarely do we unite on a cross party basis and consider the issue of immigration detention.

“The lack of a time limit is resulting in people being locked up for months and, in some cases, several years purely for administrative reasons. While there is a need to properly control our borders, people who arrive by fair means or foul must also be treated with dignity and respect throughout the immigration process.”

“The current system is failing to sufficiently do this and our report calls for an urgent rethink. We should follow the example of other countries where rates of detention are much lower and removal rates much higher.”

The Inquiry was a joint inquiry held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration. The members of the inquiry panel were: Sarah Teather MP (Chair), Paul Blomfield MP (Vice- Chair), David Burrowes MP, Jon Cruddas MP, Caroline Spelman MP, Julian Huppert MP, Richard Fuller MP, Baroness Ruth Lister, Baroness Sally Hamwee, Lord David Ramsbotham and Lord Anthony Lloyd.

The panel heard evidence from 26 individuals across three oral evidence sessions and received written evidence from 182 individuals and organisations. The transcripts of the evidence sessions, and the written evidence received, is available via the inquiry’s website: www.detentioninquiry.com

At the end of 2014, there were 3,462 people in detention, 24% higher than at the end of 2013. 397 had been detained for more than 6 months, 108 for longer than a year, and 18 for longer than 2 years.

During 2014, 30,365 people entered detention, an increase of 17.22% since 2010. 15% of people who entered detention were female.

In 2014, 29,655 people left detention. 52% percent of people left detention because they were removed from the UK, down from 64% in 2010.

63% of people spent fewer than 29 days in detention during 2014, 81% fewer than two months, and 93% fewer than four months. 857 people left detention after spending more than six months in detention.

The Detained Fast Track is used to detain asylum applicants while their applications are being decided by the Home Office. The Detained Fast Track is designed to decide straightforward asylum applications quickly, with a decision made within 7-10 days. The history of the Detained Fast Track is discussed on page 35 of the panel’s report.

Read the full report here: https://detentioninquiry.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/immigration-detention-inquiry-report.pdf

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