3 Mar 2015

Cap immigration detention at 28 days, say MPs

Immigration detention should be limited to 28 days, according to a parliamentary report, which also says Home Office officials are failing to follow guidance that detention should be used sparingly.

Harmondsworth detention centre, near Heathrow (Reuters)

Immigration detention should be capped at 28 days, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has recommended.

Home Office officials are failing to follow guidance that immigration detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest period possible, according to the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on refugees and the APPG on migration.

The UK is the only country in the European Union not to have an upper time limit on detention, the group notes in its report. The panel adds that the lack of a time limit has significant mental health costs for detainees, as well as considerable financial costs to the taxpayer.

The UK government should look at alternatives to detention including allowing individuals to live in the community, the MPs and peers says.

‘Locked up for months’

Conservative MP David Burrowes, a member of the inquiry panel, said: “The lack of a time limit is resulting in people being locked up for months and, in some cases, several years purely for administrative reasons.

“While there is a need to properly control our borders, people who arrive by fair means or foul must also be treated with dignity and respect throughout the immigration process.

“The current system is failing to sufficiently do this and our report calls for an urgent rethink. We should follow the example of other countries where rates of detention are much lower and removal rates much higher.”

Read more: Yarl's Wood - undercover in the secretive immigration centre

‘Expensive and ineffective’

Sarah Teather MP, chair of the inquiry panel and Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central, said: “As a panel, we have concluded that the current system is expensive, ineffective and unjust. We are calling the next government to learn from the alternatives to detention that focus on engagement with individuals in their communities, rather than relying on enforcement and deprivation of liberty.”

Paul Blomfield MP, vice-chair of the panel and Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said: “Current Home Office policy is that detention should be used as a last resort and for the shortest possible time.

“From the evidence that we heard, Home Office standard practice falls well short of this policy.

Read more: undercover in Yarl's Wood

‘Politically expedient’

Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “In the current system, asylum seekers who have done nothing wrong find themselves arbitrarily placed behind bars, on the say-so of Home Office civil servants, for one primary reason: because it’s politically expedient.

“Ministers must take this opportunity to pursue wholesale reform and abandon the existing structure of immigration detention which has been shown to be grossly inefficient, hugely expensive and in direct contradiction of our most cherished British values of justice, liberty and compassion.”