Imagine having to leave your home because your life is in danger. In desperation, you pay traffickers in the hope that they will help you reach a place of safety and security, only to find yourself imprisoned upon arrival at your destination – without knowing why.
Thrown in the back of a windowless van, you’re taken to an unknown destination. When you arrive, you’re behind a 30 foot fence, CCTV cameras wherever you look, unable to get out.
You don’t know your rights or – crucially – when you’ll get out. The waiting and uncertainty is brutal and the sense of isolation is unbearable.
This is the reality for the thousands of people locked up in the UK’s immigration detention estate. It is one of the largest operations of its kind in Europe and – in the absence of a time limit on how long people can be locked up – the most draconian.
Last year, around 30,000 people found themselves in an immigration detention centre. Almost 2,000 of these people were locked up for over four months, and nearly 200 were held for over a year. Around 4,000 asylum-seeking and migrant women are locked up every year.
No judge authorises their detention and during the course of their incarceration they may never be brought before a court.
Most of the asylum seeking women who are locked up in detention have already survived extreme human rights abuses, including rape and torture. Medical evidence shows mental health deteriorates significantly after just one month in detention. Self-harm and suicide attempts are common.
In 2015, there were 393 suicide attempts in UK detention centres. In the same year, 2,957 people – including 11 children – were on suicide watch.
Parliament has rightly insisted that a time limit be placed on the detention of those suspected of terrorism offences – it’s currently 14 days. For other criminal suspects the maximum period of pre-charge detention is 96 hours.
Those in locked up in the UK’s immigration detention centres are not serving a sentence for a crime. They are not even suspects. Yet they face incarceration without limit.
The human cost of immigration detention means its routine use could never be justified. But the system doesn’t even achieve the gains politicians seek.
Instead of being removed from the UK, most people in detention are later released. The Government wastes around £76 million of taxpayers’ money every year on the long-term detention of people who are ultimately released – causing them and their families huge suffering in the process. In 2016, 85% of asylum-seeking women leaving detention were released back into the community, to continue with their claims. We need to end the suffering and the uncertainty now.
As a crucial first step, Liberty is calling on the Government to include a 28-day time limit on detention in its forthcoming Immigration Bill. Add your voice now.