21 Mar 2017, 45 mins ago


A number of alarming findings have been revealed in a recent report on Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. The report of HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) brands the detention centre as ‘a place of national concern.’

Many individuals who are detained at Yarl’s Wood, and other immigration removal centres, have not been charged with a crime, nor have they been ‘detained through normal judicial processes,’ as acknowledged by the report. It is therefore particularly concerning that ‘officials are not even following current policy and nearly 100 pregnant women have been detained without any clear reason’, as described by the Refugee Council.

The lack of due process in Yarl’s Wood continues past the point of the decision to detain and includes findings that some detainees had been ‘held in temporary confinement conditions for long periods without recorded justification.’ Staff explain this increase in the use of solitary confinement as the result of an increase in detainees who are ex-prisoners or individuals who have mental health problems. This in itself indicates that there may be failings in the support for detainees requiring mental health support. The report recommends that ‘detainees with enduring mental health illness should not be detained.’

Furthermore, it is not just the needs of those who are detained that appear to have been overlooked. The HMIP report details a case where ‘a mother had been separated from her child by detention, but [we] saw no evidence on file that the Home Office had considered the child’s best interests in their decision-making.’ This highlights that a decision to detain has a wider impact than just the individual being detained, and raises questions as to whether appropriate consideration is being given to the needs of their dependants.

The Refugee Council estimates that ‘around half of asylum seekers will find themselves in detention at some point in the process.’ That is to say that around half of those who make claims for protection because they are fleeing persecution will face detention in conditions that are failing to comply with policies. This is shocking when considering that amongst those who are detained there may be asylum seekers who are torture survivors and women with mental health support needs.

Rule 35 reports are one of the mechanisms used to try and ensure adequate support and protection is provided to individuals. These reports should detail a situation where staff consider ‘a detainee’s health to be injuriously affected by detention.’ However, the HMIP report concludes that ‘many Rule 35 reports were poor and some were among the worst that we have seen, providing wholly inadequate protection for some of the most vulnerable detainees. In one case, rape was not considered to meet the criteria for torture and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were not adequately considered.’ This indicates that this is not a matter of individuals slipping through the net but rather that the detention centre is routinely failing some of the most vulnerable individuals in detention.

There are also incidents of detainees facing periods of prolonged detention. The report recommends that: ‘There should be a strict time limit on the length of detention and caseworkers should act with diligence and expedition.’ This would place immigration detention more in line with the strict procedural requirements that are afforded to those that have actually been charged with criminal offences.

Following these numerous criticisms of detention the question has been raised as to whether there are alternatives to detention. The BBC cites Jerome Phelps of Detention Action, who argues that: ‘”it is high time for the government to step away from the routine detention of migrants, and instead to work with them to resolve their immigration cases in the community wherever possible.”‘

Stepping away from routine detention seems all the more sensible when one considers that there are high numbers of individuals going into detention and then being released back into the community. The report states that ‘in the six months before the inspection, 894 women had been released back into the community and only 443 removed. In our interviews with recently released women, they reported ongoing anxiety, depression, other mental health problems and fearfulness as a result of their detention.’ This suggests detention is not being used sparingly in accordance with policy guidance, and it is also causing psychological harm where the purpose for detention is unclear and later rendered obsolete as they are released back into the community. Colin Yeo, a barrister specialising in immigration law, highlights that there may be insufficient scrutiny of the issues around immigration control due to political pressures. However, there is a very real need for scrutiny of immigration control as Yarl’s Wood is not alone in its shortcomings and HMIP have also reported on a number of concerns at the Verne Immigration Removal Centre.

It is hoped that such criticisms will bring about real change to immigration detention rather than allowing it to be a pawn for political rhetoric. These are real people who face great upheaval by a seemingly cavalier approach to deciding to detain them. It appears that detention is then often met with inadequate plans to implement removal, in conditions that are psychologically harmful, and failing to meet the needs of individuals we should be protecting.