Fleeing war, persecution and acute poverty, men, women and children have been arriving in Britain for generations. They come in search of peace: for work or education, and to build a decent life in a country were the rule of law is observed and human rights are respected.
According to Mary Bosworth, author of Inside Immigration Detention, currently the largest numbers arrive from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They also come from Nigeria and Jamaica, and from current and recent war zones: Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Many of those making the hazardous journey have been the victim of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation; some have mental health issues, all need to be shown tolerance, compassion and understanding. However, a significant number arriving in the UK are being incarcerated in the country’s 10 Immigration Detention Centres .
Dysfunctional and immoral
The UK government locks up more immigrants than any other country in Europe, and detains them for longer. This crude and unimaginative approach to what is a humanitarian issue, not a criminal matter, is detrimental to the health of those detained, extremely expensive – costing the Home Office up to GBP 70,000 a year per person – and socially divisive. It also contravenes the UN Refugee Convention (Article 31), which makes clear that “states should not impose penalties or unnecessary restrictions on movements of refugees entering their territory without authorisation”. Violating this and other binding regulations, has forced governments “to pay out millions of dollars in compensation for their unlawful detention practices”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states.
Concerned non-governmental organisations and the UNHCR condemn the UK’s detention policy, with the UNHCR stating that “seeking asylum is a… fundamental human right. In our view the detention of asylum-seekers should be avoided – these are people who are seeking protection.” Vulnerable people need support, not incarceration, as is made clear in a recent All Party Parliamentary Group report, which is highly critical of UK government policy.
The panel of MPs and peers concluded that “the UK uses detention disproportionately and inappropriately. The evidence shows that the current system is seriously detrimental to the individuals who are detained in terms of their mental and physical well-being.”
Attempted suicide and self-harming is widespread: one detainee told the inquiry that “some lose hope and they try to kill themselves. Some try burning themselves with whatever they can get. Some try hanging themselves in the shower. They think it’s the only way out… they do not kill you directly, but instead you kill yourself.”
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By Graham Peebles
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