The Forgotten Human Price of Immigration Detention

22 Jun, 2018 | Asylum and Detention, Blogs, News

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On 29 April this year Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned as a result of public anger and protests over the Windrush scandal, after it was revealed that an entire generation of people who came to the UK from the Commonwealth following the Second World War (and whose rights were guaranteed in the Immigration Act of 1971) were being caught up in the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies.  As a result, many were denied access to state healthcare, made redundant and even threatened with deportation[1].

The scandal has, quite rightly, sparked outrage across the country (read René Cassin’s statement here), and is perhaps the first time that a Home Secretary has resigned on the basis of being ‘too tough’ on immigration. It can now only be hoped that this recognition of the damaging impact our country’s current immigration policies continues in relation to the many hundreds of others that are affected.

The expectation now is that Sajid Javid, Amber Rudd’s successor, will embrace the opportunity  he has to reform the UK’s treatment of immigrants. Although his history is chequered (he voted for the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016, and defended the infamous ‘Go Home’ vans in 2013[2]), he recently announced that the Home Office will lift the cap on immigration of doctors and nurses, news which we welcome.

Javid has said  he wants “an immigration policy that is fair, it treats people with respect, and with decency”. By definition, that statement does not define the UK’s current policy.

The UK remains the only country in Europe that detains migrants indefinitely and evidence has been repeatedly brought forward that protection promised to those most at risk (such as victims of violence and torture) is not being delivered[4]. The human price of these policies is often forgotten. In particular, whilst all immigration detention is harmful to the mental health of detainees, indefinite detention is particularly harmful. Lack of insight into progress of either case and likely length of detention means that even detainees who are held for relatively short periods of time can suffer devastating psychological effects [5].

Not only is immigration detention extremely damaging for the individuals being detained, it is hugely expensive for the country. Between April 2013 and March 2017 the government spent more than half a billion pounds on immigration detention [6]. Introducing  a time limit for detention will not only drastically reduce the harm done to those being detained, it would save the Home Office  millions of pounds, which would be much better spent elsewhere.

The Windrush scandal has exposed, to some extent, the huge damage that is being done every day as a result of the UK’s hostile environment policies. The new Home Secretary should take the opportunity to shift the UK’s immigration policies, starting with the introduction of a statutory time limit, towards cooperation and community-based case management as an alternative to detention.


Rachel Levine is a member of René Cassin’s indefinite detention campaign group.








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