Detention doesn’t work… for anyone

Kate Blagojevic outlines the reasons why the detention of people seeking asylum is not only harmful but also a waste of time and money.

In the UK, migrants are deprived of their liberty without charge or trial. The UK Border Agency detains migrants for months and sometimes years – longer than any other country in Europe.   People are held in prison-like conditions without time limit. Detention Action has been working for 20 years to support thousands of people in detention and campaign for change because we believe detention doesn’t work.

Detention doesn’t work for… asylum seekers

The UK is unique in Europe in routinely holding asylum-seekers in detention to process their claims.  On the Detained Fast Track process, people are locked up in high security centres from the day they claim asylum.  Their only ‘crime’ is to have asked the UK to protect them.  The Detained Fast Track is designed for “straightforward” asylum claims, yet there is no way to reliably ensure that survivors of torture or trafficking are not wrongly detained.  The extremely short deadlines make it impossible for many to understand the process, or obtain evidence making the process inevitably unfair.

Detention doesn’t work… if you can’t be deported

People who cannot be deported should not be detained.  Some embassies, such as Iran, Iraq and Algeria refuse or are very slow to grant people travel documents that would allow them to return.  The courts have suspended forced removals to other countries, such as Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe, due to the dangers involved.  Yet many people from these countries spend months or years in limbo in detention.

Detention doesn’t work … if you shouldn’t be deported

Some people are detained for a deportation that is plainly unjust.  Some are survivors of torture or trafficking. Others are from countries like Democratic Republic of Congo or Afghanistan, to which the UK makes mass removals by charter flight despite evidence of mistreatment and danger.

Others face deportation to countries where they will not be able to access vital medical care.  Those with severe mental health conditions find detention particularly unbearable:  the High Court has four times in the last 18 months found that the detention of mentally unwell people was cruel and degrading treatment.

The UK detains and deports people who have lived in the UK for years, sometimes since they were young children. If they receive a prison sentence of 12 months, they can lose status in the UK. They often have British partners and children, and their siblings and parents have become British.  They may not speak the language or know anyone in their country of origin.  They face permanent separation from children, spouse, parents and the only country they know.

Detention doesn’t work for…. the taxpayer

Immigration detention is expensive.  It costs taxpayers £47,000 to detain just one person for a year. Almost two-thirds of people detained for over a year are released back into the community because the UK Border Agency could not deport them. This wastes around £75 million of public money every year.  The government paid out £12 million in 2010 in compensation to people who were detained unlawfully.

Every year thousands of migrants are locked up in detention centres, in high security prison conditions, for months, even years. Depriving people of their freedom indefinitely is an abuse of civil liberties, human rights and is a waste of money. Join us in demanding a time limit on detention

Kate Blagojevic is Campaigns and Communications Officer at Detention Action.

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