5 Questions the Home Affairs Select Committee should ask Priti Patel

On April 29th, Priti Patel is finally giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about her department’s response to COVID-19. Here are 5 questions about detention that need answers:

  1. Why isn’t she organising testing in centres?

At least two people have now tested positive for Coronavirus in immigration removal centres. Given what we know about the transmission of the virus, and the close quarters of many detention centres, it seems likely that many more will have been infected. How many people have been tested for COVID19 in detention? Why are people who exhibit symptoms not being automatically tested? Why isn’t the Home Office publishing this data regularly as the Ministry of Justice does for people detained in prisons?

  1. Why won’t she publish regularly a list of countries she can’t return people to?

A key principle of detention is that there must be a realistic prospect of removing someone from the country. Without this detaining someone is potentially unlawful. Following our legal action last month, the Home Office was required to disclose to us a list of countries they are currently unable to remove people to. The latest version we saw was from March 23rd; it had 49 countries on it. As restrictions have tightened, this list will have inevitably grown. Why don’t the Home Office disclose this list regularly to those it’s detaining?

  1. How can she guarantee detention centres will meet the basic conditions required to keep people safe from Coronavirus?

When we were gathering evidence for our legal challenge, we heard shocking stories of people warehoused in multi-occupancy rooms, with little access to soap or sanitiser. Densely populated and unhygienic spaces are breeding grounds for Coronavirus. We still have clients in detention with conditions like asthma or hypertension and are yet to see guarantees that they are being protected. Can she provide such guarantees? If not, why not?

  1. Why is she continuing to detain hundreds of immigration detainees in Her Majesty’s Prisons?

Hundreds are still being held in the UK’s prisons, awaiting deportations that won’t be possible for months. Why, when the Ministry of Justice is releasing serving prisoners before term is the Home Office detaining people past their sentence? Can she answer why she endangers the lives of prisoners and immigration detainees by contributing to overcrowded prisons during a global pandemic?

  1. Where are her updated policies on detention during COVID-19?

The Home Secretary could answer all of the above with a standard policy document. Most other Government departments are writing them about all sorts of things. But the Home Secretary waits until she is challenged in court to introduce basic safeguards. The policies she relied on at our interim hearing have not been published. Where are her policies on detention during COVID19?