Backbench Business — Immigration Detention

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:26 pm on 10th September 2015.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley 1:26 pm, 10th September 2015

I would like to add my congratulations to my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, who has done so much to highlight the growing concerns around this issue, and to the all-party groups on their excellent report. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to raise the experiences of my constituents unfortunate enough to come into contact with the immigration detention system, and some of the flaws in our immigration policy that exacerbate the problem.

Our detention system is arbitrary and brutally effective at taking those, who may or may not have a case to remain, out of the communities in which they live. We detain far more than almost any of our European partners, depriving people of their liberty often because we have a system which treats detention as anything but a last resort. These places are prisons in all but name and, as has been mentioned, in many cases they are considerably worse than prison. The increase in those entering detention by 10%, to 32,000 in the most recent figures, is part of a longer upward trend. I do not want to repeat the valuable recommendations that have been laid before the House, except to say that the experience of my constituents is certainly consistent with the findings of the all-party groups.

The findings were true in the case of a young man resident in my constituency who fled Afghanistan in the most appalling of circumstances aged nine years old. After four years incognito, he arrived in the UK. He was given temporary leave to remain under the international humanitarian obligations by which the UK is bound. His entire family had been murdered by the Taliban, excepting his older brother who tragically died on the journey here. He is understandably now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The young man was schooled here and built a life here. To all intents and purposes, this man is as English as you and me, Madam Deputy Speaker. He has no family and almost no connection to the country he fled at nine years old. Yet two weeks ago, after he had turned 18, he was hauled out of the community in which he lived, handcuffed and taken to the Brook House removal centre at Gatwick—[Hon. Members: “Shame”]—where he was put in a cell, and where food and drink was limited. He was even given his plane tickets, despite there being a block on his removal due to my intervention. After an entirely unnecessary traumatic and expensive experience, he was granted an injunction preventing his removal and release. He is now afraid to sign in with his caseworker, as he is required to do weekly, for fear of being arbitrarily detained again.

That case alone would tell of a disproportionate detention system and a fundamentally unjust immigration policy, but it is just a small insight, as we have heard, into wider failings. Problems remain with communication, conditions, illegal detention, a lack of a time limit and cost. The all-party groups’ recommendations are so desperately needed if our constituents are to retain their liberty and dignity throughout the immigration process.

Community-based solutions, alongside time limits and proper judicial oversight, are all sensible solutions to help to ease those problems.

I turn briefly to the nearly 15,000 unaccompanied minors, such as my constituent, who are given temporary leave to remain when they arrive alone as children and find themselves in a prolonged legal battle as the clock strikes midnight on their 18th birthday, which usually ends in a detention centre and occasionally in deportation. These people, barely adults, are wrenched from the lives they have made since arriving alone in Britain and, undoubtedly terrified, are put on a charter flight back to their countries of origin. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that 605 individuals over the past six years who arrived unaccompanied seeking asylum have been deported to Afghanistan on turning 18. The Home Office has given me the dubious assurance in the case of my constituent that his western upbringing will be of benefit to him in his new life in Afghanistan, but that is simply not the reality for many young people who return, fearing reprisals from the Taliban simply because they are known to have lived in the west.

The issue gained further prominence this week with the announcement in the other place that Syrian refugees aged 18 would be deported, which was retracted the following day by the Prime Minister. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide details of exactly how these children will not be deported on turning 18. For example, will they be granted indefinite leave to remain upon entering the country? The process for dealing with unaccompanied minors when they turn 18 seems at best ad hoc and often leaves young men and women in limbo for years, in and out of the detention system.

I hope the Minister will agree that the harm facing these 15,000 unaccompanied minors is a considerable cause for concern and that perhaps time might be granted for further debate and to review this specific issue in our asylum system. For now I implore the Government to listen carefully to the views and experiences of hon. Members and our constituents and to signal a direction of travel away from detention as an arm of the immigration system. Detention should be used as originally intended: a last resort used only in exceptional circumstances.