I echo the congratulations to the two APPGs and to Members from both sides of the House who have brought this very important and timely debate. In a week when moral indignation from the nation at large has caused action by the Government, I would like to think that this debate too can play its part in awareness raising and have a similar positive effect.
I do not have any of these so-called immigration removal centres in my constituency, but their names are known to me as almost a roll call of shame, and some touch on my constituents. The two nearest to me are Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, which my constituent Diane Lukeman, who is in the Public Gallery and is a lay visitor with Detention Action, visits. The situation at Yarl’s Wood was brought home to me by a visit facilitated by Father Simon of Christ the Saviour in Ealing Broadway. He set up a meeting for me with Citizens UK when I was a parliamentary candidate. It opened my eyes to a world I had never experienced before.
My constituent had fled persecution from the Taliban, but even she spoke of the humiliating, degrading and harrowing conditions that left her depressed and suicidal —my right hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart has told similar stories—behind the tall fence and barbed wire. Defenders of these institutions will no doubt assert that they are not meant to be holiday camps and that they are meant to deter, but their dire conditions and lack of respect for human dignity have left inmates resorting to extreme actions, such as hunger strike.
The 2013 report of the inspectorate of prisons on Yarl’s Wood, which followed an unannounced inspection similar to the old-style Ofsted inspections, said:
“The circumstances of those held at Yarl’s Wood make it a sad place. At best it represents the failure of hopes and ambitions, at worst it is a place where some detainees look to the future with real fear and concern. None of those held at Yarl’s Wood were there because they had been charged with an offence or had been detained through normal judicial circumstances. Many may have experienced victimisation before they were detained, for example by traffickers or in abusive relationships.”
The cumulative result is a moral dereliction of duty. People, including women and children, are locked up for months in draconian centres, not knowing when they will be let out.
Governments of parties on both sides of the House have sought to be tough, in the eyes of the electorate, on undocumented migrants. That is wrong and it blurs the issue of refugees and asylum seekers with the wider immigration debate, which tends to border on hysteria and forms a cycle that breeds a climate of hatred, fear, racism and demonisation of the so-called “illegals.”
The UK has long had a reputation as a defender of human rights and civil liberties where freedom prevails, but the detention system is a stain on our character. The only beneficiaries seem to be the private providers. Serco is literally profiting from the misery at Yarl’s Wood.
I am pleased to report that my constituent, who asked not to be named, has got back on her feet. She got out of there and is enrolled on a psychology degree. She is rebuilding her life and working with Citizens UK on these issues, but she is still haunted by her experiences.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London—I am not sure which is his part-time position—is not present, but in his 2008 incarnation he stood on a platform calling for an amnesty for all illegal immigrants. I do not know what happened to that, but it was not in our manifesto, which instead called for an end to indefinite detention. I hope we all agree with that. The report by the all-party groups recommends a limit of 28 days. I am sure we can all agree that the processes need to be sped up and that due process needs to be done.
If a time limit on detention could be set that was not prejudicial to the Government’s ability to remove those who have no right to remain, would the Minister support it? The community organising group Citizens UK, which has been mentioned by a few Members on both sides of the House, has a working group devoted to examining alternatives to detention as a means of processing migrant and asylum applications. Will the Minister liaise with and meet that working group?