Second oral session of Parliamentary Inquiry on Detention


Yesterday marked the second oral evidence session of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the use of Immigration Detention, hosted by the APPG on Refugees and the APPG on Migration at the Houses of Parliament. Chaired by Sarah Teather MP, a panel of cross-party parliamentarians gathered to take testimony from a range of experts, including those individuals with direct experience of the horrors of detention, and leading legal and medical practitioners. Between them, they painted a worryingly familiar picture – one of a system riddled with inadequacies, crippled by inefficiencies, compromised by private contractors,  shamelessly politicized, and almost wholly indifferent to the UK’s commitment to human rights, principles of justice or even a basic appreciation of human dignity.

Detention Action were in the room to capture the unveiling.

To begin the session, the panel asked for a general outline of the conditions in detention. Echoing sentiments we heard repeatedly throughout the group-evidence sessions we helped organise for the Inquiry, speakers suggested that conditions differed between centres but that in general they were designed to intimidate, suffocate and oppress those held inside:

Experts-by-experience also spoke at length about restricted access to legal aid, both in IRCs and should an individual be held in prison under immigration powers. One speaker told the panel how he had gone to a legal surgery in detention only to be told his case was unwinnable and was promptly rejected legal assistance. For the next seven months he represented himself, up until release. Making something of a mockery of the quality of legal aid on offer, he has since been been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain. Meanwhile, another speaker reflected on the lack of signposting afforded those in detention:

Those with direct experience of detention were also keen to make clear that whilst detention (and the lack of a time limit in particular) served to exacerbate existing mental health issues, it also created them too. One speaker said he had arrived at detention on one kind of medication to help him manage existing trauma, only to end up leaving on NINE different forms of prescription. If that didn’t bring home the devastating psychological impact of detention, others told the panel how they had been driven to self-harm…and how detention centre staff had dealt with these kind of situations:

Speakers were also eager to stress the long term impact of detention, post-release. As one of our clients, Sharif, had noted in a recent piece for the Unlocked twitter-tour blog; just because you leave detention, it doesn’t mean detention leaves you. The emotional scars of detention rendered individuals unable to trust others, terrified of seeing guards in uniform, and scared to go to the reporting centre and sign-in. All this made re-integration into society extremely difficult:

The second wave of speakers were made up of healthcare professionals, including Dr Hartree of Medical Justice, Dr Chisholm of the BMA, and Dr Allen, who previously worked in Colnbrook IRC. To begin, they reported how healthcare services in detention were not only poorly governed but were not built in a way to meet the needs of detainees. They then went on to outline some of the key procedural flaws which served to undermine the healthcare offered those in detention, starting with the asylum screening process used to determined whether an individual is ‘fit for detention’:

Reflecting on his own experiences of working within healthcare in detention, Dr Allen provided a valuable insight into the level of attention the Home Office paid to the well-being of those incarcerated under their care. He was particularly damning of  the quality of nurses, who he deemed to be “terribly poor and nothing compared to the standard of care offered in the NHS”, and of efforts made to familiarize healthcare staff with the particular issues prevalent amongst detainees:

There was also a general consensus that there was a serious conflict of interest between the Home Office’s forced removal of migrants and the appropriate treatment of those in detention. Dr Allen noted how doctors were routinely denied medical records, purposefully kept in the dark about what they could or could not do, and how confidential medical information was often used by the Home Office without individual patient’s knowledge or consent:

The third batch of speakers came from a legal background and sought to illuminate the severely restricted access to justice those in detention (and especially those held in prison under immigration powers) face on a day-today basis. Among the issues covered, Kay Everett of ILPA, Justine Stephanelli from the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, Laura from Bhatt Murphy and Adeline Trude from BiD heavily criticized the time detainees are afforded with solicitors, the lack of information they are given on navigating legal procedures and the huge impact of legal aid cuts.  honed in on how broken the current system is:

Speakers also attacked the distinct lack of judicial oversight throughout the detention estate as a key reason why the Home Office has been able to get away with operating such an inherently unfair system:

In the end though, a large part of the discussion during the second oral-evidence session was taken up debating the UK’s distinct lack of a time-limit on detention. Expanding on analysis provided by the medical practitioners (who outlined the psychological impact of indefinite detention) and the experts-by-experience (who confirmed it), speakers hammered home the legal arguments for a time-limit, reminding anyone willing to listen that ‘There is Another Way‘…we just have to take it: