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 8 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 and 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.”