Why is Britain locking up 32,000 immigrants a year?
The UK detains almost eight times as many immigrants as Germany – and some of those are pregnant women and rape victims. But why? Radhika Sanghani reports.
If someone breaks the law in this country, the police must have sufficient reason to arrest them.
If the police then want to charge that person with a crime, they have a very limited amount of time – between 24 to 96 hours depending on the severity of the crime – to collect the extra evidence required to have that person locked up.
If they can’t find that evidence, that person must be released.
Compare that now to the way immigrants and asylum seekers are treated in Britain. They are systematically locked up in detention centres for the ‘offences’ of claiming asylum, overstaying visas, and just waiting to find out if they have a right to enter the UK.
There is no maximum amount of time they can be detained before a decision needs to be made about their case.
Although the Home Office states it does not have an indefinite detention policy, that’s not the reality that immigrants and asylum seekers report. Many have spoken up about being locked up for months, even years, without being duly informed of an official release or deportation date.
If they are given release dates, those are often pushed back to the point where one person recently reported being locked up in a removal centre for three whole years.
Just imagine if a British citizen was arrested and kept in jail for that amount of time without a trial or any idea of when they’d be let out. It would be considered an absolute abomination of human rights – but that’s exactly what is happening to immigrants coming to the UK.
In the last year, 32,053 people were detained in removal centres across the UK. That’s a 10 per cent increase on the year before, and it’s a huge figure compared to other countries in Europe.
Back in 2013, we detained 30,418 people while Belgium detained 6,285, Sweden detained 2,893 and Germany – a country that received four times as many asylum applications as we did that year – only detained 4,309 individuals.
It’s clear that detention is not only being used as a ‘last resort’, as the Government guidelines suggest, but a standard method of dealing with immigration.
Not only is it inhumane to lock up asylum seekers, it’s pointless. Many are supported by family or friends while they go through the legal asylum process and check in with the relevant authorities regularly. But they report being randomly detained for a number of months – at considerable expense to taxpayers – just to be let out again.
Photo: Getty Images
Statistics show two thirds of people are released straight back into the UK after detention, so why on earth does the Government feel the need to lock them up in the first place? It doesn’t make sense economically or socially.
Detention in the UK is not an easy ride. I visited Yarl’s Wood last year – the removal centre recently classified as a ‘place of national concern’ by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons – and was appalled by the scenes of suffering around me.
This month, in my Telegraph Wonder Women series on Yarl’s Wood, I’ve heard from four women who were detained there – each with a story more harrowing than the last.
They speak of appalling conditions. A disabled woman says she was forced to crawl to get food; a pregnant woman was locked up for four months even though the guidelines say pregnant women must be detained only in exceptional circumstances; and a young woman suffered so much she attempted suicide.
Charities such as Women for Refugee Women have been trying to get Yarl’s Wood shut down for years, and now MPs are joining in.
This week 25 MPs from the four main parties stood up in a Chambers debate to speak up for immigrants and asylum seekers. They didn’t just call for an end to Yarl’s Wood – they urged the Home Office to stop detaining rape and torture victims, to improve conditions of removal centres, and crucially, to impose a maximum time limit of no more than 28 days. There was cross party agreement.
The Immigrant Minister James Brokenshire was the only MP who opposed these reforms. He gave the weak response that the Home Office’s ‘published policy already makes clear detention should be used only as a last resort’ and that though it is a good idea to make use of alternatives to detention, he would have to ‘consider them carefully’ before any commitment.
Quite frankly, that’s not a good enough response. These Home Office guidelines might be saying all the right things, but it doesn’t seem like any one is taking them seriously.
The sheer amount of people being detained shows it’s not a ‘last resort’ in the UK; 99 pregnant women were detained last year (again, the guidelines say that should only occur in exceptional circumstances), and one MP told a shocking story of a 13-year-old trafficking victim being locked up because no one realised she was a child.
It’s not acceptable that this is happening in Britain in 2015. The Home Office needs to stop bleating on about the existing guidelines being adequate – they’re clearly not – and come up with some solid rules that address all the issues raised by MPs and detainees.
Only then will refugees and immigrants get the justice they deserve, and those who are granted British citizenship won’t have to feel ashamed about the way their new country treats its unexpected arrivals.