Letter to MPs: Covid-19 set to cause human tragedy in immigration detention

Our letter to all MPs, sent Friday 20 March 2020.

Dear Member of Parliament,

I am writing to you at what I appreciate is an exceptionally busy and important time.

My organisation, Detention Action, supports people held in UK Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). I am writing to draw your attention to the dire situation unfolding in IRCs and the grave threat to life that it presents. In the last few days DA has heard from people held across the detention estate of widespread fear and panic amid unsanitary conditions and an almost total lack of information regarding Covid-19, both it’s risks and steps that can be taken to reduce its spread.

I am contacting you so that you may help apply pressure to Government during Monday’s oral questions and the debate of emergency Covid-19 legislation to secure the release of people held under immigration powers for administrative convenience, to help deal with this public health emergency.

As you may already be aware, Detention Action has issued a legal challenge against the Government requiring it to immediately identify and release all those with underlying health conditions and to review the lawfulness of detention of all others given the impossibility of removals. The High Court has recognised the urgency and given the Government until 6pm today to respond.

We have spoken with people currently detained at Yarl’s Wood, Harmondsworth, Colnbrook, Morton Hall & Brook House IRCs, and they report that either no soap or insufficient soap has been provided; no information has been provided about Covid19; and the centres remain deeply unhygienic with insufficient cleaning materials to be kept clean. Rooms are multiple occupancy with toilets in rooms and hundreds of individuals are mixing each day, including with staff and visitors coming in and out of the centre. Following Government advice on hygiene, self-isolation and social distancing is impossible for those in detention.

Those exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 are not being tested and the Home Office is continuing to detain individuals every day, including those exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms.

We have obtained expert reports by Professor Robert Coker (attached here) which conclude that, unless individuals are released, a scenario where 60% of detainees become infected is plausible and credible. He concludes that detention centres may also act as “epidemiological pumps.” Government claims it is following the science and the evidence but its approach to immigration detention starkly undermines that claim.

In addition to this, with borders closing and flights suspended across the globe, the prospect of imminent removal from the UK has disappeared, making continued detention unlawful. Those currently detained should be released and suitable accommodation provided, if necessary to prevent street homelessness, including accommodation that allows for self-isolation.

I write to you following yesterday’s publication of Wendy Williams’ report into the failings that led to the Windrush scandal. The long-awaited report is clear that the scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable” and that the victims were let down by “systemic operational failings” at the Home Office. Covid-19 poses a risk of catastrophic harm and loss of life in IRCs. So far the Home Office has done nothing to avert this disaster. Again, I must stress that even simple steps such as ensuring that soap and sanitiser is provided to everyone in detention have not been taken.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this important and urgent matter. I hope that you will consider taking the opportunity on Monday to question and scrutinise the Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis in IRCs so that the risk of serious harm and loss of life may be averted.

Wishing you safety and good health in these extraordinary times,

Bella Sankey
Detention Action

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