27 Feb 2017, 31 mins ago

People detained in immigration removal centres will normally have committed no crime and have been put there solely because there is something wrong with their immigration status. Various charities have been attempting to raise public awareness of vulnerability and marginalisation of detainees in immigration removal centres, describing in some cases the length of detention involved as arbitrary and the resulting situation as critical and requiring immediate action. Whilst one would expect the population of immigration removal centres mostly to include people from remote or war-torn countries and hardly any people from the EU, more than 10% of those currently detained have actually come from the EU.

It has emerged from recent data published by the Home Office that the number of people from the EU who are subject to immigration detention had been on the rise over the period of 5 years, reaching an all-time high in 2015, when the figure exceeded 3,500 people.  Some media reports suggest that the British government is trying to discourage people from coming into this country by introducing these kinds of uncertainties over immigration status into the lives of EU migrants arriving in the UK. However, on many occasions a story hits the news only in partial form, full details often remaining unreported. This leads to instances when outlandish alleged reasons are being suggested in the media for imposing immigration detention, which makes the Home Office look even more hostile towards immigrants. These stories attract negative publicity and produce flashy headlines, suggesting in some cases that people are detained and subsequently deported for having a picnic in a park or after being caught drinking on public transport. 

Over the past few years, with the number of migrants coming into this country from the EU reaching an all-time high, the Home Office has become much keener on clamping down on failure to comply with EU freedom-of-movement requirements than it used to be many years ago. The fact is that the ability to travel across the EU with no restrictions and a lack of tangible enforcement has led to instances when people were actually coming to the UK from EU countries totally unaware that in order to stay here legally they had to acquire legal status by exercising treaty rights. This includes being in the UK as a worker, a self-employed or self-sufficient person or a student. Since the Brexit process is expected to begin by the end of March, the government is making it ever clearer that it wants only people with a valid immigration status to stay in the UK. This has seen it resorting, on a growing number of occasions, to provisions for exclusion or removal from the UK that are set out in Part 4 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016. According to these, a person can be excluded or removed from the UK on the grounds of ‘public policy, public security and public health,’ or misuse of rights, or if the person has ceased to have a right of residence in the UK.

Earlier this month, parliament rejected an amendment to the Brexit bill that would have given permanent residence to EU citizens already based in the UK. The Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that a new immigration system is to be debated in parliament in due course, and that the legislation to exit the EU will not change the current procedure for the EU citizens. This might suggest only one thing – that the number of EU migrants in removal centres is unlikely to stay low for very long.