Re­vealed: sick, tor­tured im­mi­grants locked up for months in Bri­tain

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Diane Tay­lor and Ni­amh McIn­tyre

An un­prece­dented snap­shot of mi­grants held in Bri­tish de­ten­tion cen­tres found more than half of the sam­ple were ei­ther sui­ci­dal, se­ri­ously ill or vic­tims of tor­ture, a Guardian in­ves­ti­ga­tion has es­tab­lished.

The sur­vey of al­most 200 de­tainees held in seven de­por­ta­tion cen­tres in Eng­land as of 31 Au­gust showed al­most 56% were de­fined as an “adult at risk”. Such in­di­vid­u­als are only sup­posed to be de­tained in ex­treme cases, sug­gest­ing that Home Of­fice guide­lines on de­ten­tion have been breached.

The sur­vey – con­ducted in as­so­ci­a­tion with 11 law firms and char­i­ties that work with those fac­ing de­por­ta­tion – also found that a third had de­pen­dent chil­dren in the UK, and 84% had not been told when they would be de­ported – im­ply­ing open-ended in­car­cer­a­tion.

Al­most half the de­tainees had not com­mit­ted a crime, but the aver­age de­tainee in the sam­ple had been im­pris­oned for four months. The ma­jor­ity had lived in the UK for five years or more and some had been in the coun­try for more than 20 years.

The sam­ple amounts to 8% of all those held in de­ten­tion at the time of sur­vey, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent Home Of­fice fig­ures. A Home Of­fice spokesper­son in­sisted de­ten­tion was “an im­por­tant part of the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem”, but said that it must be “fair, dig­ni­fied and pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble”, adding that fur­ther im­prove­ments could still be made to the sys­tem.

While it is not suf­fi­ciently sci­en­tific to be ex­trap­o­lated across the en­tire re­moval pop­u­la­tion, the sur­vey sug­gests many hun­dreds of ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple are be­ing held in­def­i­nitely, in one of the most se­vere man­i­fes­ta­tions of the Con­ser­va­tives’ “hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment” pol­icy.

Roland Ad­jovi a mem­ber of the UN Of­fice of the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sioner’s ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion work­ing group, said that states must en­sure that de­ten­tion ‘is truly a mea­sure of last re­sort’

“De­ten­tion in the con­text of mi­gra­tion must be a mea­sure of last re­sort,” he said. “Such de­ten­tion can never be of un­lim­ited du­ra­tion and the na­tional leg­is­la­tion must clearly pre­scribe the max­i­mum per­mit­ted du­ra­tion of de­ten­tion.”

The former pris­ons and pro­ba­tion om­buds­man Stephen Shaw,who has con­ducted two com­pre­hen­sive re­views for the gov­ern­ment into im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion, added: “Al­though the over­all use of de­ten­tion has fallen by one third in the last three years, far too many peo­ple are still be­ing de­tained for long pe­ri­ods when there is no re­al­is­tic prospect of their re­moval from the UK.”

The shadow home sec­re­tary, Diane Ab­bott, said: “This snap­shot is truly shock­ing, but not en­tirely sur­pris­ing.

“There have been re­peated as­sur­ances that vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, vic­tims of traf­fick­ing and chil­dren would not been de­tained. But this in­ves­ti­ga­tion shows that those as­sur­ances are worth­less. Peo­ple are even be­ing de­tained even though there is no in­struc­tion for their re­moval. This is a scan­dalously in­hu­mane and un­jus­ti­fi­able sys­tem.”

The gov­ern­ment de­tains just over 25,000 peo­ple ev­ery year pend­ing de­por­ta­tion, at an an­nual cost of £108m. The prac­tice of in­def­i­nite in­car­cer­a­tion has been crit­i­cised by high court judges, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees and the UN.

More than half of all de­tainees are in any case ul­ti­mately re­leased back into Bri­tish so­ci­ety, not de­ported. Some have taken le­gal ac­tion over their im­pris­on­ment. The Home Of­fice’s lat­est an­nual re­port ac­knowl­edges that gov­ern­ment has paid out £3m to 118 peo­ple un­law­fully de­tained in the 2017/18 fi­nan­cial year.

The UK is the only coun­try in Europe to de­tain peo­ple with­out a time limit. It was Guardian rev­e­la­tions about gov­ern­ment’s re­moval tar­gets which forced Am­ber Rudd to re­sign as home sec­re­tary in April. De­ten­tion cen­tres are in­stru­men­tal to that pol­icy.

In July, the new home sec­re­tary, Sa­jid Javid, promised to make changes to im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion. But the Guardian in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed very lit­tle had changed and many vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple were still be­ing de­tained.

Eleven law firms and char­i­ties en­tered anonymised data on 188 peo­ple to build a snap­shot of peo­ple in de­por­ta­tion cen­tres on 31 Au­gust. The data in­cluded how long they were held, whether they were con­sid­ered an adult at risk and whether they had been told when they would be de­ported.

The sur­vey found:

Chil­dren were held in adult de­ten­tion cen­tres, while 30% of de­tainees had de­pen­dent chil­dren in the UK.

More than half were de­fined as an adult at risk due to be­ing vic­tims of tor­ture, hav­ing sui­ci­dal thoughts or be­ing un­well.

While the gov­ern­ment claims de­tainees are held briefly be­fore be­ing de­ported, 84% had not been given re­moval direc­tions.

De­ten­tion ranged from un­der five days to nearly three years, with a me­dian of four months, de­spite Home Of­fice guid­ance that it should be used spar­ingly and for the short­est pe­riod nec­es­sary.

De­tainees came from 56 coun­tries, most com­monly Nige­ria and Al­ge­ria.

An adult at risk should be given spe­cial pro­tec­tion be­cause they are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble. They should not usu­ally be im­pris­oned, though they can be if the Home Of­fice be­lieves they pose a risk to the pub­lic or have a his­tory of non-com­pli­ance with im­mi­gra­tion law.

Of those rep­re­sented in the Guardian sur­vey, 27% had been tor­tured, 24% had se­ri­ous health con­di­tions and 4% were at risk of sui­cide.

The sur­vey found just over half of de­tainees had served a prison sen­tence.

Alieu, a refugee from Gam­bia who was tor­tured in his home coun­try, says that seven years af­ter be­ing de­tained in Har­mondsworth im­mi­gra­tion re­moval cen­tre, near Heathrow, he is still suf­fer­ing trauma.

“I kept ask­ing the Home Of­fice: ‘Am I a crim­i­nal, am I a pris­oner?’ I was locked up in a very small space and was too scared to sleep. I’m still scared of peo­ple in uni­form. The trauma from be­ing locked up in de­ten­tion af­ter I’d al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced tor­ture will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion also un­cov­ered mul­ti­ple cases of chil­dren be­ing held in the adult es­tate,de­spite this be­ing banned in all but ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances. Al­most a third of adult de­tainees had de­pen­dent chil­dren in the UK, prompt­ing con­cerns their re­moval would lead to fam­i­lies be­ing sep­a­rated.

Bail for Im­mi­gra­tion De­tainees, a charity that as­sists with de­tainees’ bail ap­pli­ca­tions, con­demned such sep­a­ra­tions, say­ing it causes chil­dren ex­treme dis­tress.

“Many of our clients’ chil­dren have lost weight, suf­fered from re­cur­ring night­mares and ex­pe­ri­enced in­som­nia dur­ing their par­ents’ en­forced ab­sence,” said Celia Clarke, di­rec­tor of BID.

Kate Allen, di­rec­tor of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional UK, de­plored the fact that the vast ma­jor­ity of de­tainees face open-ended im­pris­on­ment, adding: “That lack of an end date is caus­ing se­ri­ous harm, not only to those de­tained but also to their loved ones.”

Mi­gra­tion Watch, which mon­i­tors mi­gra­tion into the UK and has called for the de­ten­tion es­tate to be ex­panded, said: “If peo­ple are here legally and they are be­ing de­tained that’s a se­ri­ous flaw in the sys­tem. It goes with­out say­ing that peo­ple who are here legally should not be de­tained.”

James Price, cam­paign man­ager at the Tax­Pay­ers’ Al­liance ex­pressed con­cern about the cost of de­ten­tion: “De­ten­tion should only be used when there is a high chance of re­turn­ing the in­di­vid­ual in a short space of time, be­cause a bu­reau­cratic and lengthy wait is bad for the wel­fare of those de­tained, as well as cost­ing tax­pay­ers and mean­ing less money for es­sen­tial ser­vices.”

The Home Of­fice spokesman said: “We have made sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to our ap­proach in re­cent years, but it is clear we can go fur­ther.

“The home sec­re­tary has made clear that he is com­mit­ted to go­ing fur­ther and faster to ex­plore al­ter­na­tives to de­ten­tion, in­crease trans­parency around im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion, fur­ther im­prove the sup­port avail­able for vul­ner­a­ble de­tainees and ini­ti­ate a new drive on de­tainee dig­nity.” The method­ol­ogy

The Guardian sent a se­ries of ques­tions to 15 or­gan­i­sa­tions who work with de­tainees – law firms with Home Of­fice con­tracts to rep­re­sent de­tainees and spe­cial­ist NGOs. We re­ceived re­sponses from 11.

Our part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions pro­vided anonymised data about a se­ries of key met­rics, in­clud­ing age, length of res­i­dence and fam­ily ties in the UK, length of de­ten­tion and spe­cific vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

We asked them to en­ter data about their en­tire client list on a sin­gle day, 31 Au­gust, but some did not have the re­sources to cap­ture ev­ery de­tainee on their books.

Af­ter ex­clud­ing a hand­ful of po­ten­tial dou­ble counts where an NGO and a law firm may have been work­ing with the same de­tainee, we were left with 188 unique re­sponses.

We then cal­cu­lated the pro­por­tion of the group with cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies, de­pen­dent chil­dren and long-term res­i­dency.

The data should be treated as a snap­shot and not as a sam­ple rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole pop­u­la­tion in im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion. Many de­tainees never have con­tact with any le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive or NGO, and will not have been cap­tured in our sam­ple.

• In the UK, Sa­mar­i­tans can be con­tacted on 116 123 or email jo@sa­mar­i­tans.org. In the US, the Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line is 1-800-273-8255. In Aus­tralia, the cri­sis sup­port ser­vice Life­line is 13 11 14. Other in­ter­na­tional sui­cide helplines can be found at www.be­frien­ders.org.

Pho­to­graph: The Guardian

The sur­vey found al­most half the de­tainees had not com­mit­ted a crime but the aver­age de­tainee had been im­pris­oned for four months.

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