The subject of indefinite immigration detention has been in the headlines again last week. I myself spent five months in detention and have campaigned for essential detention reform since my release. Now, a new report from a cross-party group of MPs has given me more hope.
Credit goes to the members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) for instigating this immigration detention inquiry and the organisations who gave crucial evidence over the past few months. Two members of the group that I represent, Freed Voices, also gave vital evidence.
The timing of this report seems ideal, as we are currently passing a very crucial juncture, with the committee stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill is starting today. I see this as a window of opportunity to achieve one of the most important reforms needed in relation to immigration detention: the introduction of a 28-day time limit.
The harm caused by indefinite detention has been well documented over the years. The indefinite nature of the current detention regime frames many of the miseries that surround it. Being detained indefinitely means you do not know when you will be released; you do not know if you will be transferred to a different detention centre or removed from the country at a moment’s notice. You do not know if or when you will be able to see your family again.
It was distressing but not surprising to learn that there are two suicide attempts a day in UK detention centres. Self-harm is an ever-present reality. This dire situation is allowed to fester in part because of the government’s attitude towards and portrayal of those that they detain.People in detention are treated as transient, even though people can be held for months or even years.
This is why the 28 day time limit recommended in this JCHR report is crucial. A time limit alone would not fix the problems caused by detention, however. This report also covers the fact that the Home Office often gets their decision to detain someone in the first place wrong. Decisions are currently taken without giving priority to peoples’ liberty and without considering alternatives to detention first. Therefore, there is a real tendency that detention becomes arbitrary.
I think it is because there might be an inevitable conflict of interest for the Home Office to authorise someone’s detention in the first place, as the same institution is tasked with their deportation or removal. This is why I agree with the recommendation that the decision to detain someone in the first place must be made independently from the Home Office as far as possible.
The committee has also called for better and more consistent access to legal aid. Proper legal advice is crucial to access justice and this has been seriously undermined by recent legal aid cuts.
After seeing the harrowing footage of abuse in Brook House, I think it is certainly important to improve oversight of abuse allegations and the ability to identify and properly consider people’s vulnerabilities. The endemic ill-treatment and abuse that we have seen must never be allowed to happen again.
The Home Office has no legal obligation to follow the recommendations outlined by the committee, but there is cause to be optimistic here. Firstly, it is much better to have this sort of report, as it makes our arguments and calls for immigration detention reform stronger. The government cannot plead ignorance to the devastation that its policies cause. Secondly, the number of parliamentarians now committed to introducing a time limit is continuing to grow. I’ve seen exactly why we need to end indefinite detention, and we may finally have the political consensus to make it happen.
Lastly, the fight against indefinite detention from campaigners, politicians, and experts-by-experience has been inspirational. Our attempts to instil dignity, humanity and compassion into our immigration system will go on.
This article was written by Mishka from the Freed Voices group – Freed Voices is a group of experts-by-experience dedicated to speaking about the realities of detention and calling for detention reform. Mishka writes under a pseudonym.