“We will enforce immigration rules humanely and effectively. We will end the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system, ending detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual abuse or trafficking. And we will ensure Britain continues its proud history of providing refuge for those fleeing persecution by upholding our international obligations, including working with the UN to support vulnerable refugees from Syria”— and from all over the world. I was proud to stand for re-election earlier this year on a Labour manifesto pledge to end indefinite detention for those in the asylum and immigration system. A joint report by the all-party parliamentary group on refugees and the all-party parliamentary group on migration, co-authored by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central, has not only many disturbing findings, but many encouraging and workable suggestions, too.
It seems that Home Office guidance on detention often leaves much to be desired. Although minimal use of detention is recommended, detention appears to be seen as an easy option for delaying resolutions. That is particularly cruel when we consider that the centres in which people are held were mostly built to be high-security prisons. People in need, people without homes, people who have come for our help in their darkest hours are being abused by a system that considers them statistics, not humans.
The lack of humanity is startling. My hon. Friend Catherine West has been trying since her election to visit the immigration removal centre, Yarl’s Wood. The Home Office has refused her applications. Unsurprisingly, it is ashamed of the regime there.
Staggeringly, in the past year, 13 children in Yarl’s Wood have been classified as adults. Within the UK as a whole, the number has grown to an unbelievable 127 since 2010. This Government have been presiding over a system that incorrectly classifies children as adults, and leaves them within the adult population for months before allowing them to challenge that decision. Children who have been correctly classified are routinely removed from their parents and housed elsewhere. Research by Bail for Immigration Detainees has shown that in 75% of cases where that happens the parents are finally released, and detention has been nothing but an immense strain on the family and individuals.
While prison officers have been given information and training in identifying signs of extreme mental distress, those in removal centres rarely have the training or support to do so. The British Medical Association recommends such training as vital. Healthcare is not a luxury for these people; it is a right. Specialist services must be as accessible to detainees as they are to the general public. Across the board the transfer of healthcare service commissioning to NHS England has been welcomed, but that is not the end of the problem, and screening processes have not yet been fully put in place.
A report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons from 2012 noted that nearly 20% of the people it interviewed had spent more than six months waiting without making a bail application. Poor legal advice and understanding of the system was considered to be the most likely reason for that. Bail for Immigration Detainees found that only half of detainees had a legal representative. The system we have fails those whom it is meant to serve. Liberty estimates that 45%—3,483 people—of those held on British immigration estates are asylum seekers, not economic migrants. Those human beings have fled for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs; they have come through the storm. Humanity must dictate our behaviour, and detention must be only a last resort, not an easy solution.