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Life in immigration detention in the UK


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Last week highlighted the blight of the UK’s immigration detention camps. We saw the broadcast of two major Channel 4 investigations into conditions at the Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth immigration detention camps here in the UK. The reports were based in part on work by Corporate Watch, which I am proud to say is part funded by Garden Court Chambers. The full Corporate Watch piece is available here. We also saw the publication of a major cross party report on immigration detention.

The Channel 4 investigations are genuinely shocking, even for those of us with contact with immigration detainees and who visit the sanitised “independent” tribunal hearing rooms that have disgracefully been embedded into some of the camps:

“Headbutt the b**ch”, one guard says. “I’d beat her up”.

A guard is also filmed commenting: “They’re animals. They’re beasties. They’re all animals. Caged animals. Take a stick with you and beat them up. Right?

One woman was bleeding and was later to miscarry. She was turned away from Yarl’s Wood healthcare and “spoken to” because she was “refusing to wait her turn” and tried to ring the ambulance service. Serco eventually called an ambulance and the woman was taken to hospital, told she had miscarried then returned to immigration detention again.

The fundamental inhumanity of the system is laid bare.

This is very far from the first time that conditions in the immigration detention camps have been criticised. In January 2014 a report on Yarl’s Wood was published by Women for Refugee Women (WRW) in which women said they had been watched naked and on the toilet by male guards and were subjected to sexual advances. Ten male members of staff was previously sacked from Yarl’s Wood for sexual relationships with the detainees. Meanwhile, Channel 4 previously highlighted the tragic death of Alois Dvorzak at Harmondsworth, apparently due to sheer indifference on the part of the Home Office official responsible for his case.

Also last week, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration published a major report on the use of immigration detention. The report highlights that the UK is unique in Europe for setting no time limit on detention in the camps: no other country in Europe permits indefinite detention as we do here.

The UK is an outlier in not having a limit of how long we can detain people under immigration powers. We are also an outlier on the scale of our immigration detention estate. We detain a lot of people, some for a very long time, all with huge uncertainty, and we have very limited processes for individuals to challenge that detention.Sarah Teather MP

The report calls for a limit of 28 days for the use of immigration detention powers. This would force the Home Office to use its extensive powers more wisely and link immigration detention far more closely to removal from the UK.

Immigration detention dehumanises the victims but also the perpetrators, the Home Office civil servants and private contractors who are responsible for implementing UK government detention policy. Meanwhile, judges dealing with these cases forget the value of liberty.

It is #time4atimelimit.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.