Diane Abbott promises a ‘new order’ for refugees and migrants under Labour

A Labour government would end indefinite immigration detention. Speaking before this week’s Brighton conference, the shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott declared the current refugee and asylum process to be a ‘bureaucratic mess’ and has promised that Labour would create a ‘more humane system’. Hannah Wilson reports

The UK is currently the only country in the EU which does not place a statutory time limit on detention in immigration detention centres. Recent statistics suggest that there are over 200 people within the system who have been held in detention centres for over a year, and of the 3,000 people sent to detainment centres between June 2016 and June 2017, over half had been there for longer than 28 days. The dire situation faced by those within detainment centres was uncovered in a shocking BBC Panorama investigation in September of this year, which focused on the Brook House detainment centre next to Gatwick Airport. As reported on the Justice Gap here.

The documentary drew attention to the threats of violence from both other detainees and from officers which vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers are forced to endure within the overcrowded, prison-like camps, and highlighted how these shocking abuses were resulting in the high rates of self-harm and attempted suicides in the centres.

Abbott also called for an end to mass deportation flights, calling them ‘a particularly brutal way of responding to the current immigration panic’. Deportees who have been forced onto planes chartered by the Home Office as part of the mass deportation flights have compared the planes to ‘slave ships’, and many are reported to have been restrained by handcuffs, as well as leg and waist restraints – despite the independent watchdog for charter flight deportations condemning the use of force and restraint in the deportation process.

Aside from denouncing deportation on such flights, Abbott expressed her concern that the process prevented immigrants from being able to fully exercise their rights. ‘The nature of the process means that people can be bundled out of the country when they have not yet exhausted all the avenues of appeal and gone through due process.’

At a fringe event hosted by the Fabian Society to launch a report by the Bach Commission on Access to justice, the chairman of the Bar Council welcomed but called on Labour to reform immigration detention. ‘We need a time-limit on detention. There is a very large number of people who simply shouldn’t be there,’ Langdon said.

The barrister pointed to the success rate of pro bono representation by barristers on bail applications. ‘We have a higher than 50{3234d8c1bc8391a7e63ebaf7e32c90a4a5b2a92b92485c9509211683c01cefb1} strike rate – over half of the people on behalf applications are being made should never have been there in the first place. This is a rule of law issue and the absence of legal aid has exacerbated the problem.’

Abbott complained of ‘people who had been deported to Nigeria who are not actually Nigerian. Many people are deported to Jamaica who are not actually Jamaican. It’s when they arrive in Jamaica, they find that they are not Jamaican,’ she added. ‘This speaks to the hurried and thoughtless nature of the process.’

While Abbott’s attack was mostly levelled at Conservative Party policy, she also hit out at New Labour policies which lead to the introduction of immigration detention. Speaking about her reaction to immigration detention when the process was introduced, she stated, ‘Myself, Jeremy Corbyn, and others pointed out the lack of transparency and the lack of due process around immigration detention and we were told that we should not concern ourselves.’


Author: Hannah Wilson

Hannah is a paralegal at BSB Solictors and is currently completing the BPTC at University of Law in London. She is commissioning editor for the Justice Gap and tweets at @hnnhw3

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