This government is planning to detain more immigrants. Say no to the detention expansion plan
News items about immigration detention hit the media with certain frequency now, often for disturbing and distressing reasons. Most recently, a young Bangladeshi man called Rubel Ahmed lost his life in Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre in Lincolnshire in September, though the media’s reaction was largely to focus on what it called a ‘disturbance’ after his death rather than on the sadness of this young person’s death away from his family and friends. Before that, the national paper reported the NGO sector’s angry reaction to the allegation that UN special rapporteur was blocked access to Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire in April. Only in the previous month, a woman called Christine Case passed away in Yarls Wood and not so long before the Centre was under intense scrutiny after it emerged that its staff members were dismissed due to inappropriate sexual relations with those detained inside.
However away from these high profile incidents, another kind of disturbing situation has been developing – an expansion of the detention estate. Over the last 12 months, UK immigration detention capacity has quietly increased by 25%. Most of the increase was due to the opening of the new Immigration Removal Centre, the Verne, in Dorset in September. A former prison, it can hold up to 580 immigration detainees. Additionally, relatively small-scale expansions were carried out in six existing detention centres across the UK, adding a further 267 spaces. The government has now announced a plan to double the size of Campsfield House Immigration Removal Center in Oxfordshire. If the plan goes ahead, this will add a further 250+ bed spaces. We are also told that a new wing to Campsfield will be built to Category B prison standard, a far more prison-like structure than the current main Campsfield building.
We expect most of the general public to be unaware of this. The hallmark of the UK detention expansion is that it tends to take place away from public and political scrutiny. Yet for migrants, their families and communities who are caught up in this system, this plan means only one thing – more hardship and misery. These migrants could be refused asylum seekers who are facing removal from the UK, workers and students who overstayed their visas or breached their conditions of their visas. They could be foreign national ex-offenders who are given deportation orders and are kept in detention centres (and also often prisons) after they have finished their prison sentences. Many of these men and women who find themselves detained have families in the UK, children, siblings, parents, and are facing long-term separation from their loved ones. It is not uncommon to find someone in detention who has lived in the UK for decades. Unlike other European countries UK has no time limit on immigration detention, which means that migrants can find themselves detained for months and years: of 3,079 who were detained at the end of June 2014, 61% were detained longer than a month, 26% were detained longer than three months and 8% were detained longer than six months.
Detention is harmful and expensive. There is ample evidence, which shows that detention has a negative impact on people’s mental health and that often vulnerable people find themselves trapped in detention. According to the (now disbanded) UKBA annual accounts, the government spent £156m and £171m on detention 2011/12 and 2012/13. Huge sums of money are paid in compensation for unlawful detention cases (£12 million in 2009-10). Over the last three years, the High Court found on six separate occasions that the Home Office breached the human rights of immigration detainees who are in their care under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human
Rights (freedom from torture, cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment). The UK’s practice of detention, and the lack of a time limit, has been repeatedly criticised by various national and international observers. Just last weekend, Church of England has joined others calling for an end to indefinite detention.
The Detention Forum is therefore calling for a moratorium on the detention expansion and asking its members, supporters and anyone who is concerned about this development to lobby their MPs, particularly to stop the expansion of the Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre. One of our members Campaign to Close Campsfield, is also working closely with other local groups to quash the planning application. You might have already seen the BBC news, which reported a group of Oxford academics sending an open letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to drop the expansion plan. Interestingly for such a politically unpopular topic, there is a local cross-party opposition to the plan as well.
Lastly, there is an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the use of immigration detention, which is yet to report its recommendations. Almost 200 submissions were received by the panel and the third oral evidence session takes place on 18 November. One of the former detainee said of immigration detention ‘It is a mental torture. It is unjust. It has to be changed no matter how long it takes’. Clearly, this is not the time to be expanding the detention estate. What we need is a radical change so that migrants can remain in the community rather than spend their time locked up in immigration detention centres. Often it is assumed that detention only takes place in detention centres – however during the detention inquiry, we learnt that detention does not stop at the gates of the detention centres but its devastating impact continues to be felt in Manchester, Newcastle, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Middlesbrough, London and other places. So please join us and say NO to the detention expansion plan.
The briefing paper and a sample letter to your MP are available here.
The Detention Forum is a network of organisations working together to challenge the UK’s use of detention. We are also running a Twitter tour of the detention estate, Unlocking Detention, at @DetentionForum.