Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 10th February 2010.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 5:54 pm, 10th February 2010

The hon. Gentleman is right-the nature of the detention system and Yarl's Wood have a tangential relationship. From what I understand-I have not spoken to any detainees, although I have heard representations from those who have-the protest was directed partly at Yarl's Wood, but essentially at the asylum and detention process. However, we need to address some of those frustrations, because Yarl's Wood is the end of the process. As I have remarked frequently in debates such as this, the policy is decided by the Home Office and executed by the UK Border Agency, but the people left holding the parcel at the end are the staff at Yarl's Wood. They have to deal with any frustrations caused by the system, although they are not responsible for policy and cannot make many decisions about individual detainee cases. Therefore, when the frustrations boil over as they did in this instance-although fortunately not to any great extent-the staff have to deal with that. Addressing those frustrations will therefore, in time, ease the situation at Yarl's Wood.

There is much frustration about the failures of the asylum process to deal speedily and effectively with cases. Only yesterday the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, reported on the UK Border Agency, as I am sure the House already knows. Among other things, she said that the agency still has a "long way to go" to ensure that its administration, complaints-handling procedures and remedy mechanisms are adequate. She spoke of the hundreds of thousands of backlogged cases not yet dealt with. She said that there was a risk for the agency of

"a loss of faith in their system by applicants, by other related organisations, and by the public at large".

I am sure that many hon. Members could give examples of long-running asylum cases. I had two new cases in the last week, one involving a Zimbabwean woman who applied in 2002 and still, eight years later, has not had a determination. The House will be aware that those who have been turned down for asylum face many restrictions on working and benefit claims. These are not just statistics. They represent people who are trying to get on with their lives while the process of determining their status goes on. Length of time does not give them any greater right in theory, but it makes a profound difference to the life that they want-and are trying-to live.

Some of the women detained at Yarl's Wood lived in their communities for many years before being taken to the centre for removal. They have effectively become settled in the UK. It is not that they have acquired a right to remain here: it is that the delay in the process makes the process of deportation so much harder, difficult to enforce and potentially unjust. They have relationships and jobs and, above all, a fear of a country that they may have left many years before in difficult circumstances. They now have to face the prospect of returning to it. When does the Minister believe that her Department will properly get a grip on the backlog of cases and deal with some of the frustrations so evident at Yarl's Wood?

In a statement on the events of the weekend and on the situation in general, Caroline Slocock, the chief executive of Refugee and Migrant Justice, said:

"The disturbances at Yarl's Wood again highlight the injustice of indefinite immigration detention in this country. Some of the women in Yarl's Wood have been held for many months and simply don't know when they will be released or removed."

The most recent figures for detention that I have are from the independent monitoring board's report from last year, and they are the figures for 2008. They show that 347 women were detained for between 30 and 59 days, 137 for between 60 and 89 days, 75 for between 90 and 119 days, 121 for between 120 and 364 days and eight for more than a year. I remind the House that Yarl's Wood is a short-term centre. It is designed for people to be there for a short period of time before they are deported. It was not designed to have a substantial number of women there for much longer than three to six months.

I am aware that there are many reasons why detainees will be at Yarl's Wood longer than anticipated, and some are beyond the ability of the Department to deal with-such as when a country refuses to accept a national back-but this poses a question. How long should women be detained if there is no certainty of them being deported? How long can an order be granted again and again to hold someone in such uncertain circumstances? If there is no prospect of returning someone rapidly, why is there not an alternative system of reporting and being handled, as opposed to being deprived of liberty?

Those circumstances are even more serious when it comes to children. I note that one or two other colleagues have just entered the Chamber. The situation of children in detention has exercised the House on more than one occasion-hon. Members hold strong feelings about that issue. The 2009 IMB report gives the figures for 2008: a total of 1,271 children left detention that year, of whom 262 were detained for between eight and 14 days; 87 for between 15 and 21 days; 74 for between 22 and 28 days; and 232 for more than 28 days. The Children's Society says that the children they tend to be involved with experience an average stay of about six weeks.

Given that I am talking about figures, I should say in passing that Keith Vaz sent me a copy of the Home Affairs Committee's report on the detention of children in the immigration system. I have just given the Minister the statistics for 2008, but the right hon. Gentleman wrote:

"We have been unable to discover how many individual families with children have been detained in the last year. That such figures are not readily available is troubling. In future, Government statistics should be more informative and state how many separate individuals have been detained, not merely how many people have passed through detention."

I leave that with the Minister. Many people have been exercised by the process.

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