Author: Diane Taylor
The home secretary has announced that he will consider ending indefinite immigration detention in response to a highly critical report.
In a statement to parliament following the publication of a new report by Stephen Shaw, the former prisons and probation ombudsman, into conditions in immigration detention, Sajid Javid said he would review how time-limited detention works in other countries to better inform the debate in the UK.
Shaw’s report is a follow up to his first review which was commissioned by the then home secretary, Theresa May, after years of criticism about the treatment of immigration detainees. It examines the implementation of the recommendations he made in the first report and makes many new recommendations.
The timing of the publication of the report was viewed sceptically by some observers. Home Office waited until the busy last day of the parliamentary term to release the report, even though Shaw submitted it to the Home Office in April of this year. Other announcements to appear on Tuesday included the closure of two RAF bases and seven courts as well as an announcement that shale company Cuadrilla would be allowed to begin fracking in Lancashire.
Javid said that the government was committed to working with charities, faith groups, communities and others to develop alternatives to detention, strengthening support for vulnerable detainees and increasing transparency around immigration detention.
He added that there would be an immediate stop to the practice of three detainees occupying rooms originally designed for two, piloting the use of Skype, and reviewing the training and support for staff in immigration removal centres so that they can work with detainees more closely.
“We have made significant improvements to our approach in recent years, but it is clear we can go further. My ultimate goal is to ensure that our immigration system – including our approach to detention – is effective and humane.”
While Shaw praised the Home Office for some improvements in detention including an 8% reduction in the number of people detained in the last year, reducing the number locked up from around 30,000 to around 28,000, he expressed concern about many of the things he found while researching his report and said immigration detention should be a last resort.
“When I was carrying out the review I came across many more vulnerable people in detention than I had expected,” he said.
He cited the example of a frail 77-year-old Bangladeshi whom he came across in detention.
“I don’t believe anyone over 70 should be in detention. These places are not designed for the elderly. She was the most egregious example I came across and it demonstrated a lack of compassion … You couldn’t have agreed to her detention if you thought of her as a person not as a case.
“Each of the centre managers I spoke to said that the number of vulnerable people in their care remained the same. There is still a huge amount to be done and that’s why I made lots of further recommendations.”
Shaw also called for a new approach to the the policy of detaining and removing people who had committed crimes but had lived most of their lives in the UK and recommended that many could be dealt with in the same way that British offenders are dealt with and managed in the community at the conclusion of their prison sentence.
“There is a section in my report about ex-offenders who are more British than foreign who have been brought up in this country … I argue that we are not talking about their return but their expulsion.”
“More effort should be put into encouraging voluntary return. Immigration detention should be a last resort, it’s very damaging, very expensive and not very effective,” said Shaw.
Charities working in the detention sector say that despite the recommendations for sweeping changes in Shaw’s first report the situation for vulnerable detainees remains dire – and is in some cases worse than before the Home Office introduced its adults at risk policy in September 2016 in response to Shaw’s first report. The policy states that people who are vulnerable or at risk should not normally be detained.
The Helen Bamber Foundation surveyed clients between September 2016 and June 2017 and found that the adults at risk policy had failed to prevent or reduce the detention of vulnerable people.
In new research, Bail for Immigration Detainees found that vulnerable people including torture survivors and people with mental health problems were detained too often and for too long and that “rule 35” reports carried out by medical professionals to flag concerns about vulnerability to Home Office officials were routinely ignored.
Medical Justice found that among its caseload there was an increase in the number of vulnerable people being detained, many for longer periods than previously. Its report says that the adults at risk policy fails to identify vulnerable people, increases the evidential burden on detainees to prove that they are vulnerable and increases the threshold for release from detention.