Detention Inquiry report shows it's time for change

Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre

A cross-party group of MPs and peers has today called for the number of days that people can be held in immigration detention be capped at 28, in a report that is highly critical of existing practices.

In recent years there have been cases of people being held for as long as five years and people may be held indefinitely.

Sarah Teather MP, chair of the inquiry panel, said that the UK was an ‘outlier’ in not having a time limit on detention, described the current system as “expensive, ineffective and unjust” and called on the next UK Government to “learn from the alternatives to detention that focus on engagement with individuals in their communities rather than relying on enforcement and deprivation of liberty”. There are 12 immigration detention centres in the UK. Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire is the only detention centre in Scotland.

Serious change needed

Scottish Refugee Council strongly welcomes the MPs’ recommendations for serious systemic change, and calls in particular for a reduction in the movement of people around the UK from one detention centre to another, as well as for greater judicial oversight of immigration detention.

In one case a man called Souleymane was detained for three and a half years, and lost his solicitor after being transferred between legal jurisdictions from Dungavel, the only immigration detention centre in Scotland to Colnbrook in England.

This is not an isolated incident, and in Scottish Refugee Council’s evidence to the inquiry we highlighted the fact that moving individuals from Dungavel to detention centres in England and vice versa can have very serious implications for men and women’s access to justice.

Need for judicial oversight

We are also very concerned that people are not only being detained at Dungavel immigration removal centre in Scotland, but are also being held in Scottish prisons. There must be transparency and judicial oversight of where and how people are held in Scotland under immigration powers, and people who have not committed an offence or who have completed a criminal sentence, should not be held administratively in prisons alongside criminal detainees.

Meanwhile, Dungavel is one of the only two immigration detention centres in the UK that continues to incarcerate women. Fewer than one in ten detainees at Dungavel are women and life for female detainees there has been described as like being a “chicken surrounded by dogs”. Scottish Refugee Council welcomes the Inquiry’s recommendation that women who are pregnant or who have experienced rape or sexual violence are never detained for immigration purposes.

Recent undercover footage secured by Channel 4 from Yarl’s Wood detention centre shows how poorly detainees, particularly women, can be treated in some detention centres.

Detention a last resort

Gary Christie, Head of Policy at Scottish Refugee Council, said: “For years the practice of detaining asylum seekers and migrants in Dungavel House has been rightly criticised. We welcome this report into the immigration detention regime across the whole of the UK.”

“Detention must only ever be used as a last resort, with a time limit and judicial oversight. Greater transparency is long overdue, especially when it comes to the merry-go-round of moving people around from one detention centre to the next, and in particular between Scotland and England.”

The Detention Inquiry report, as well as calling for a time limit on immigration detention, made a number of other significant recommendations.

Range of recommendations

The panel also:

  • recommended that community-based resolutions should be the focus, rather than enforcement and detention;
  • concluded that the Detained Fast Track does not allow asylum seekers to receive the support they need and is not conducive to high quality decision making;
  • said it was concerned that individuals being held under immigration powers are increasingly being held in conditions tantamount to high security prison settings;
  • recommended that women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be detained and that pregnant women should never be detained for immigration purposes;
  • was shocked by the personal testimony they heard of people suffering from mental health conditions who were detained for prolonged periods of time and conclude that current Home Office policy puts the health of detainees at serious risk;
  • recommended that screening processes are improved to ensure victims of trafficking are not detained and that when GPs complete a Rule 35 report they make a clinical judgement over whether any injuries are consistent with the account of torture; and
  • expressed concern that current arrangements for challenging continued detention don’t work and that many individuals in detention are unable to access quality legal advice.

The inquiry was a joint one carried out by the APPG on Refugees and the APPG on Migration at Westminster. To find out more about evidence submitted to the inquiry, you can visit the inquiry’s official website at