Immigration is one of the most divisive issues we face today. The Windrush Scandal has highlighted the major issues with the Home Office’s dealings with immigration and the anti-foreigner sentiment played upon by the Leave Campaign has created further divide within communities. Whilst it appears that compromise is somewhere in the rosy distance, there is no political excuse for the issue of immigrant detention centres and the treatment of those detained.
In 2017 over 25,000 people passed through immigrant detention centres in the UK. There are ten detention centres across the country which can hold up to 3,500 making the immigration detention system in the UK one of the biggest in Europe. The UK is also the only place in Europe to have no statutory limit on the length on detainment.
Detention centres are not prisons meaning they do not have to conform to the same checks criminal system has. The UK prides itself on its legal system being based on an assumption of innocence until proven guilty. This seems somewhat contradicted by the treatment of those held in detention centres. There is no legal aid guaranteed and often no bail or hearings set. A recent study found that 84% of detainees are held with no idea on the status of their case.
The US administration caused outrage this summer when their policy of child separation at the Mexican border was brought into the spotlight. There have been cases of children being unnecessarily separated from their parents here too however this has received nowhere near the same levels of scrutiny. We cannot take the moral high ground against other countries when the same thing happens here, and a blind eye is turned.
The government argue that these centres are necessary for effective immigration control. The statistics however do not point to efficiency. Less than 50% of detainees are ever deported and 80% of women are freed without charge. The amount spent on the detention centres has been estimated to be around £100 million per year with millions then spent on compensation. This is all in front of a backdrop of austerity.
This is not just about money and efficiency. The people caught up in the system are put under immense stress due to their open-ended detainment. In October it was revealed there are on average two attempted suicides a day in detention centres in the UK with eleven deaths reported last year within the system.
With the breaking of the Windrush Scandal, the opposition to detention centres has gained momentum and influence. Many of the faces of Windrush protest groups have been held in detention centres and their stories have prompted some form of action. It was announced on December 3rdthat a new scheme to support women who would have otherwise been detained will be introduced in response to a report on the welfare of those detained. One centre has already been announced for closure and Savid Javid has vowed to reduce the number of people held.
However, if a person is of no threat to the community or has, like many of the Windrush generation, lived and brought up family here, surely there is no need for them ever to be detained. This all feeds into the narrative of hostility towards immigrants and more assertive action needs to be taken to reduce the number of people being wrongfully detained. It just doesn’t seem in keeping with our supposed British values.