Author: May Bulman
Pressure on the UK government to bring an end to indefinite immigration detention has been scaled up after the UN refugee agency backed calls for a time limit.
Following a highly critical government-commissioned review of the detention system earlier this week, home secretary Sajid Javidpledged to look into how time limits on the detention of immigrants work in other countries.
The UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner Volker Turk said he hoped the study would result in limits being put in place, with detention only used as a “last resort”.
“If, indeed, detention is unavoidable and it is the last resort that it is meant to be, there needs to be a time limitation put to it.
“I think we hope very much that in the course of this study … that indeed time limits would be the outcome.”
Earlier this month, The Independent exclusively reported on an unprecedented call from the British Red Cross for a 28-day limit on detention, after the charity found cases of asylum-seekers being detained for as long as two years and seven months.
A report by the charity found that thousands of innocent asylum seekers – often fleeing war and torture – are detained each year and locked up indefinitely with no support, with some driven to attempt suicide.
The UK immigration detention estate is one of the largest in Europe, with around 2,500 to 3,500 people in detention at any given time. More than one in five detainees are held for at least two months.
In the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Javid told MPs he wanted a detention policy “based on not only what works to tackle illegal migration, but what is humane for those who are detained” and promised that he would “further consider the issue of time limits on immigration detention”.
His announcement followed the publication of a second review of the UK’s immigration detention system by former prisons and probation ombudsman Stephan Shaw, which found people were being locked in “unacceptable” conditions, often for “deeply troubling” lengths of time.
While there has been a drop in the overall detainee population, the number of people held in removal centres for more than six months has increased. The Home Office’s strategy of expanding capacity by adding extra beds into existing rooms had “exacerbated overcrowding, and created unacceptable conditions”, the review found.
In response to the findings, Mr Javid said it confirmed the government was on the “right track” in improving detention, but conceded that there were also areas where ministers “could and should do better”.