The Home Office has been criticised by MPs for ‘utterly failing’ in its responsibilities to monitor the safe and humane detention of individuals in the UK and for showing ‘a shockingly cavalier attitude’ to people’s basic rights.
Published on 21 March, the Home Affairs Committee report condemned the Home Office for also ‘ignoring and breaching its own policies’.
Around 30,000 people are held in detention centres under Immigration Act powers every year. Britain is the only country in the European Union where there is no legal limit on detention.
While the committee accepted that the intention was to only detain people where there was a public protection reason to do so, in practice it was concerned that too many asylum seekers were being detained when there was no need and that ‘inappropriate decisions were being taken to lock people up’.
The findings in the report come as no surprise to the Joint Public Issues (JPIT) which works on behalf of the United Reformed Church (URC), the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland and the Methodist Church.
In June 2018, the Churches launched a campaign to challenge the government’s approach to illegal immigration.
Simeon Mitchell, URC Secretary for Church and Society, who works as part of JPIT, said: ‘The threat of indefinite detention is a key component in the government’s failing hostile environment policies. This report exposes the detention system as not only unjust but also inhumane and uncovers how vulnerable people have been detained and subjected to some shockingly harmful treatment.’
These failings have had devastating consequences for families, as revealed when the treatment of some members of the Windrush generation came to light last year, and in other cases. For instance, in 2017 Nancy Motsamai and her husband Fusi, both from South African and members of Woking United Reformed Church, were forced to embark on a tragic battle with these hostile policies.
The couple had been living and working in the UK for 10 years and were much-loved members of their community. They ran into difficulties renewing their visas and were forced to report to a Home Office Centre in Hounslow, where they were detained and taken to an airport to be deported. While there, Nancy fell ill and collapsed in a corridor. She was accused by immigration officials of faking illness to avoid deportation, and held in a detention centre overnight. She died five days later.
The committee’s report made further criticisms that the Home Office is ‘ignoring and breaching its own policy guidance,’ and ‘the Adults at Risk (AAR) policy is clearly not protecting the vulnerable people that it was introduced to protect’.
It recommended that the government ends indefinite detention by implementing a maximum 28-day time limit, as well as a ‘robust’ series of frequent checks and safeguards. It also calls for the initial detention decision to be reviewed by a judge within 72 hours.
Mr Mitchell added: ‘We have been calling for an immediate end to indefinite detention, and we welcome the report’s recommendations that limits and safeguards should be introduced as a matter of urgency. Coming after the recent High Court ruling that the government’s ‘Right to Rent’ checks are discriminatory, unjustified and breach human rights, this report adds to the case for a comprehensive independent review of immigration policy and practice, as a first step to dismantling the hostile environment.’