Catholic charity Jesuit Refugee Service UK has today released a report which finds that the indefinite and arbitrary process of immigration detention destroys a person's sense of humanity, and fosters a culture of death, suicide and self-harm; causing long-term damage to physical and mental health. 'Detained and Dehumanised: The impact of immigration detention' draws from the accounts of 27 forcibly displaced people supported by JRS UK, with direct experience of detention spanning the last 20 years.
Sarah Teather, director of JRS UK said: "This report provides further damning evidence of the tragic and dehumanising effects of the Home Office's use of immigration detention. This research speaks to 20 years of experience of immigration detention in the UK. 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."
The report recommends an end to the use of detention for the purpose of immigration control, as it is incompatible with a humane and just immigration and asylum system.
For as long as immigration detention exists, the report urges the Government at the very least take steps to limit harm by:
i) introducing a mandatory time limit of 28 days or less for all those detained under immigration powers and ii) ensuring the decision to detain must go before a judge and be independent of the Home Office.
Sarah Teather continued: "At JRS UK we regularly encounter vulnerable individuals who are subjected to the indignity of detention through an arbitrary process, and who are caught in a complex web of dehumanising policies. Far from being a last resort, the use of these punitive and devastating powers has become so automatic that it has been normalised. Immigration detention is a harmful process that obstructs the fundamental right to family, community, participation and life."
"The time for government to end this cruel and inhumane practice is long over-due."
The Immigration and Social Security (EU withdrawal) Bill returns to the Commons for Report Stage on Tuesday 30th June. MP David Davis's tabled amendments to the Bill, would put a 28-day time limit on immigration detention, with judicial oversight of detention after 96 hours.4 These echo the recommendations of time-limit and judicial oversight, recommended in 'Detained and Dehumanised' to reduce the use of detention and its negative impact on the person for as long as the practice continues.
Contrasting with the inhumanity of detention itself, the research also echoes previous research by Dr Anna Rowlands with refugees at JRS UK in the publication For our welfare not for our harm5 in finding that religious faith and human connection are for many a source of strength. For many of those interviewed, community and faith were a source of hope and a way of reclaiming agency during their experience of detention.
Key findings of the report:
People spoke of being dehumanised by detention - of coming to feel less human, and of losing something of themselves or their capacity to engage with the world. Many people spoke of being treated like animals, or even objects. when being detained or whilst held in detention. "They [the officers] must not talk to people, like they are animals."
Though detention often damaged humanity, people subjected to it also defended, recovered, and fought for their humanity. Several people found faith and human connection to be a powerful source of strength. One woman described her involvement in a prayer group; an act of solidarity that would particularly devote time to pray for people who had been given a plane ticket for their removal. "We would pray for everyone, even the officers" she explained.
· The culture of death and trauma that pervades the experience of being detained is one in which self harm is commonplace and many of those interviewed witnessed suicide attempts, while others themselves felt suicidal. One of the people interviewed for the report said: "I saw people cutting themselves, someone who tried to hang himself, someone who died in detention…" Another person said: "I wanted to kill myself: I wrote in a suicide letter 'The system killed me, the Home Office killed me.'"
· The UK is currently the only country in Europe to use indefinite immmigration detention, without a time limit on how long someone can be detained. The report finds while even a short period in detention is traumatic, long detention is especially damaging. This lack of a time limit was found by those interviewed to be particularly stressful, as they did not to know when they would be released and could not mentally adjust: "The most awful thing was an uncertainty: Not knowing whether I will be released and what they're going to do to me."
· Detention is harmful to physical and mental health and causes long-term trauma. Many of those detained arrived in the UK seeking sanctuary after experiences of torture. Being detained causes them to re-live previous experiences. One of the people interviewed stated: "When I was released it was even difficult for me to cross a road because of mental torture for seven months." Another person said: "People will pick up mental health problems in there, anxiety. Then you release them in society. On the one hand, the government is saying they have to reduce mental health problems, on the other, they are causing them."
· The process of detention itself is arbitrary, and lacks accountability, with no meaningful notice and no explanation. Reporting to the Home Office is also experienced in the shadow of 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. One of the people interviewed said: "Reporting gives me stress, so much stress. Each time I go there, my blood pressure goes very high. I feel dizzy sometimes."
What is immigration detention?
The UK government detains people in prison-like conditions for the purpose of immigration control. The Home Office decides whether to detain someone, via an administrative procedure, and there is no time limit on detention in the UK. Most people put in immigration detention are eventually released rather than removed. People are sometimes in detention for years. Anyone subject to immigration control can be put in immigration detention. For example, people who have overstayed visas or been refused asylum.
The full report 'Detained and Dehumanised: The impact of immigration detention' can be found on the JRS UK website: www.jrsuk.net/detentionreport
Dr Anna Rowlands report, 'For our welfare and not for our harm', in collaboration with JRS UK, can also be found on the JRS UK website: www.jrsuk.net/for-our-welfare-and-not-for-our-harm/
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