A report published today which finds that over a fifth of those detained in UK Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) have been held for over 6 months while nearly 40% of detainees are adults at risk, raises renewed concerns for JRS UK.
The ‘Report on short scrutiny visits to Immigration removal centres’, carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), investigated conditions in four IRCs: Harmondsworth, Brook House, Morton Hall and Yarl’s Wood. The visits were carried out in May 2020, whilst lockdown measures were still in place across the UK to protect against COVID-19.
JRS UK is among many organisations to raise concerns about the high rates at which infection spreads in detention, and the consequent danger of detention during the pandemic.
The main findings are in line with the concerning, detrimental effects of detention that JRS UK witnesses on a daily basis in its work supporting individuals who are detained at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs near Heathrow.
22% of detainees surveyed for the report had been held for more than six months and 12 had been held for more than a year and the inspectors found that “In many cases, removal during the pandemic seemed unlikely” as few removals had taken place and few were scheduled. Immigration detention is ostensibly for the purpose of removal, and the Home Office is facing serious questions as to whether detention is legal as the pandemic often makes removal virtually impossible. Many of those designated as ‘adults at risk’ met the criteria for shielding, meaning they were at increased risk from COVID-19. The report also noted that COVID measures were not being followed or implemented sufficiently.
Sophie Cartwright, JRS UK Policy Officer said: “This reflects a wider pattern in which draconian immigration control is prioritised over persons and communities. In prolonged detentions, we are talking about months or even years of human lives lived in limbo through a process that is cruel and unaccountable. That vulnerable people – and even those at heightened risk from COVID-19 – continue to be detained, despite the increased risk of infection in detention, shows an utter disregard for both individual and public health. Everyone must be released from detention, into appropriate accommodation, for the duration of the pandemic. And this must be a wake up call. It is time to question our use of detention.”
The report also found continued high-levels of self-harm in some of the IRCs, and made clear the detrimental effects of detention upon the emotional and mental states of those detained, which is in line with the experience of JRS UK detention support workers. The report in particular highlights the extreme frustration felt as the result of continued detention and lack of any information with regards to case progression.
William Neal, JRS UK’s Detention Outreach Officer, said: “It is particularly concerning to see that such high levels of self harm have persisted in some of the IRCs since the start of lockdown measures. With the prospect of removals near to impossible, the Home Office’s decision to maintain detention serves to only further frustration. We must not forget that these are very real people who are being put at risk of further harm.
“Once again we see that many individuals who experience immigration detention are subjected to an unsafe and unjustifiably challenging environment which impacts their personal welfare. We work with a number of individuals in the community who have experienced immigration detention and all have to find a way to manage the lasting mental and physical impact of their detention. Whether those we support experienced immigration detention 3 years or 3 months ago, the challenges, fears and vulnerabilities that detention caused are shared”
Take action today:
MPs are currently debating a new Immigration Bill. Write to your MP today in support of an amendment to introduce a 28-day time limit on detention, together with judicial oversight of the decision to detain.