No Trial, No Time Limit – End Indefinite Detention in the UK

Lani Bond - Writer

“In prison you count your days down…in detention, you count your days up.”

Emotions around the country are mixed, but now it is proving increasingly more important to support people whose voices are being lost. Indefinite Immigration Detention in the UK is an issue that has been muffled out in the past– change is on the horizon, but more need to know.

What is immigration detention?

Immigration detention is a government policy that detains people who are believed not to have a legal status to remain in the UK, or if their right to remain has expired. In the UK, 28,000 people are detained each year, with up to 3,000 in detention at any point. Immigration regulation is necessary for the country to sustain its control of the borders, however immigration detention policies in the UK are breaching human rights.

The UK is the only country in Europe that does not have a time limit on detention. There is no trial, and whilst the Home Office investigates their cases, people have been held from days, weeks and years. In 2017 50% of those detained were released, however still suffer the life-changing consequences.

Marienna Pope-Weidemann, 2016

Impacts of Being Inside

These centres are described as worse than prison, and insights such as the 2015 Channel 4 investigation of the conditions inside of the notorious centre Yarl’s Wood, Bedfordshire, are shocking. It sparked many protests (see above) and helped trigger the ‘These Walls Must Fall’ campaign. The undercover footage reveals the guards describing those detained as ‘animals’, and the neglect of people’s mental and physical health care is evident.

Not being able to contact family and not knowing when your detention will end is described as mental torture. In an Amnesty International report 2017, 50% of interviewees had self-harmed or attempted suicide as a result of their experience.

Many detainees are already survivors of torture, trafficking and rape – being placed in these centres carries added stress and trauma. Although the Shaw Review of 2016 called for greater consideration of vulnerable groups such as children, LGBTQ+ and disabled people, as well as the absolute exclusion of pregnant women after cases of miscarriage and recognition of excessive stress, the 2017 Amnesty report found still not enough has been done.

Families are torn apart; Amnesty has also found that when children of detained adults suffer at home without knowing when their family members will return, their education is often affected, further impacting their futures. With a cost of £165 million per year it is difficult to understand the benefits of this system – the long-term suffering of those affected is certainly not a beneficial investment.

Understand from the people affected. 

For a summary of the impacts, click here.
To hear Abdul Al’Bashir speak about his six-year detention, click here.
For a short documentary, click here.
To hear Ntombi’s story, click here.
To read from experts, see FreedVoices.
Many more examples are available online.

The Windrush Generation

People who have been detained include those of the Windrush Generation.

The Windrush Generation migrated from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971 after being invited to work in the UK and were granted legal permission to stay permanently. However, the Home Office did not keep a full record and many never applied for official paperwork.

In 2012, a change to immigration law meant British citizens needed official documents to prove their entitlement to things such as free hospital treatment and benefits in the UK. This led to the wrongful detention and deportation of 83 British citizens, with only 18 being formally apologised to. Many were children when they arrived in the UK, and therefore were ‘returned’ to countries they had never known.

What can we do? 

Firstly, talk about it. Spread the word.

Organisations such as Freed Voices are calling for a 28-day time limit, stronger judicial oversight, an end to the detention of vulnerable people and for other options to detention to be explored, such as community-based alternatives.

In May 2019, 100,000 people signed a petition to end Indefinite Detention; parliament have been revising a new immigration bill, which gives more opportunity for this to be amended.

Take a look at the These Walls Must Fall campaign. They have template letters to email our MPs with, and ideas for how to contact local councillors. Bristol, Manchester, Oxford and Lewisham are amongst councils who have already passed the motion in full support.

Other organisations supporting this movement include Amnesty International, Liberty and Detention Action.

To help more directly, you can find your nearest detention centre as there are volunteer schemes that offer visits to detainees to let them know they are being supported.

It is easy to lose hope in politically uncertain times such as this, but we can still use our voices to help change things for those who can’t. There are a lot of concerns now, but also a lot of windows for discussion. Let’s not let this issue be drowned out.




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