THE BLOG

The Time Has Come For Our Prime Minister To Be Held Accountable For Presiding Over Countless Human Rights Abuses In Detention Centres

16/11/2016 08:03 GMT | Updated 16/11/2017 10:12 GMT
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This article is published as part of 'Unlocking Detention' - an annual 'virtual' tour of the UK's detention estate, which aims to shine a spotlight on one of the gravest civil liberties issues in Britain today

"I had big expectations. I thought UK was a civilised country. It was unthinkable that these things happen here."

That's Dave, detained - so far - for two years in Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) awaiting removal.

People detained administratively and indefinitely occupy a dark corner of this nation. Shining a light on their desperate plight is more important than ever. The time has come for our Prime Minister to be held accountable for presiding over countless human rights abuses in detention centres while she was Home Secretary - and to put an end to the cruelly indefinite detention regime that we have in this country.

Unlike the rest of Europe, our Government does not put a time limit on immigration detention. Alternatives to detention have proved successful in countries like Sweden and Belgium, but the UK continues to routinely and indefinitely strip people of their liberty for administrative convenience.

And make no mistake, IRCs are prisons. Dave's only fresh air comes from the few hours a day he can spend in the yard. He was only able to speak to the public through a Twitter Q&A arranged through The Detention Forum's 'Unlocking Detention' tour.

Dangerous and pointless

Detainees include children, pregnant women and asylum seekers.

Many of the women held have experienced rape and sexual violence in the past. In IRCs they are guarded by men who can enter their bedrooms and be present during searches and health assessments.

Recent guidelines allow for solitary confinement of detainees who are "stubborn, unmanageable or disobedient". This segregation can last for more than 14 days - despite evidence of permanent psychological harm setting in after 15 days - and there are no rules against its repeated use.

Medical evidence shows that mental health deteriorates significantly after just one month in detention, and medical treatment of any kind is frequently delayed, denied or simply unavailable.

In a cruel paradox, the evidence shows that the longer someone is detained, the less likely it is that their incarceration will end in removal, rendering indefinite detention as futile as it is inhuman.

People detained for months or even years at the expense of the UK tax payer are frequently released back into the community. Meanwhile alternatives designed to reach case resolution through good case-management are left unexplored - ignoring evidence their introduction would provide a more humane, cheaper and efficient alternative to detention.

Hostile environment

Assaults on the right to liberty are just one piece of the Government's toxic "hostile environment" policy. In recent years we have seen an onslaught of policies designed to make life unbearable for those without status - sowing disharmony and division in the process.

The Right to Rent scheme has turned landlords into agents of the Home Office, requiring them to interrogate the immigration status of tenants and encouraging discrimination and racial profiling in the private rental sector.

Hospitals are called upon to police expanded restrictions on access to healthcare for non-nationals and access to justice for migrants is being systematically dismantled through the decimation of legal aid, massive Tribunal fee hikes and the removal of in-country appeal rights.

The politics of division has even spread to education with childminders, nurseries, schools and colleges asked to collect country-of-birth and nationality data on children as young as two-years-old.

The Snoopers' Charter

Not content with policies which promote degradation and compromise liberty and justice, our Government is also using the Investigatory Powers Bill to undermine the privacy of those facing indefinite detention.

Provisions allowing for a separate regime for intercepting the communications of those in immigration detention centres and expanding the hacking powers of immigration officials mark the latest Government assault on the human rights of non-nationals.

Many detainees correspond with lawyers by phone and email, disclosing sensitive, confidential information, such as details of rape, torture, domestic violence and abuse by officials. The Investigatory Powers Bill, which will do so much to violate the privacy of the population at large, is a stark reminder of the Government's determination to render the immigration detention estate a rights-free zone.

We need change

Dave says the Government "are mixing up the immigration system and the justice system, and compromising them both - we need change".

He's right, and Liberty won't rest until that change comes. We will keep working in Parliament, in the courts and with human rights campaigners to make our society fair, just and compassionate. If we want to unify our communities and inspire hope about our future, we must start by rejecting the politics of hate and fear and division. And to do that we need to tear out the rotten heart of the system: indefinite immigration detention.

Martha Spurrier is the director of Liberty

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