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Home Office refuses to end indefinite detention of immigrants

By Jemma Slingo

The Home Office has rejected calls from parliament’s human rights committee to end the indefinite detention of immigrants, despite widespread cross-party support.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) recommended a 28-day limit on immigration detention, arguing that the current detention system is ‘slow, unfair and expensive to run’. It said in February: ‘Indefinite detention causes distress and anxiety and can trigger mental illness and exacerbate mental health conditions where they already exist. Moreover, the lack of a time limit on immigration detention reduces the incentive for the Home Office to progress cases promptly.’

The proposal was backed by legal campaign groups and MPs across parliament.

However, the Home Office said this week that a time limit would ‘severely constrain the ability to maintain balanced and effective immigration control, potentially incentivise significant abuse of the system, and put the public at risk’.

‘Even countries that do apply a time limit to immigration detention do not operate such a short one,’ it added.

The UK’s immigration detention system, which detains around 25,000 people per year, has come under increased scrutiny this year.

In March, the Home Affairs Select Committee found ‘serious problems with almost every element of the immigration detention system’ while analysis by Liberty and Cambridge Econometrics found that a 28-day time limit would save the taxpayer £35million per year.

Harriet Harman, chair of the JCHR, said: ‘Home Office immigration detention is arbitrary, unfair and breaches human rights. Repeated detention and release, which characterises the system, shows that it must be reformed.’

James Wilson, acting director of campaign group Detention Action, said: ‘We believe that the government is relying on slogans and unsupported claims, rather than the independent evidence available. It continues to opt for [a system] that is beset by inefficiencies, routinely ensnares vulnerable trafficking survivors, and releases the majority of people detained after pointlessly depriving them of their liberty.’

Proposals for the introduction of statutory safeguards such as a 28-day time limit have been set down in a cross-party amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, which is currently before parliament.

(Courtesy: Law Society Gazette)

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