They say that a country should be judged based on how it treats the most vulnerable, but the way that we have treated people who are attempting to gain asylum into the UK has been, at times, shocking.
The UK is the only country in Europe that uses detention with no official end date and that should shame us all. I am sure that I am not the only one who has been appalled at some of the detention stories that we have read about or seen on television. In particular, “The Glasgow Girls” served as a harrowing reminder of the cruelty that the UK’s detention policy brings about. Even though the policy of detaining children was ended in 2010, the Scottish Refugee Council has highlighted that children are wrongly assessed as being of adult age and therefore are still being detained. The council says:
“A small number of children are still detained at the end of the asylum process, after their case is heard by an independent panel, in Cedar’s Pre-Departure Accommodation. It is run by private companies…with welfare services provided by Children’s Charity Barnardo’s. This ‘open’ facility is designed as a last resort, before families are removed to their countries of origin. But there are still concerns about the affect its use has on children—many of whom are sent from Scotland on their way to their countries of origin.
In addition, some children who have been wrongly age assessed as adults find themselves detained, often for long periods of time.”
I hope that the new clause serves as a catalyst for further investigation, so that these young people/children are treated with dignity and respect, and are not detained full-stop. Westminster might still favour the policy of detention, but I think that we all agree that detaining young people is cruel and inhumane, and I ask the Immigration Minister to look further at this issue.
The case of Souleymane, who was detained for three and a half years, was highlighted in the detention inquiry report, and it serves as another cruel reminder of the policy of detention. There is no excuse for such a long period of detention. The case highlighted that detainees were being transported from one detention centre to another. The length of time that Souleymane spent in detention had an obvious and significant impact on his mental health, and I must ask, is that something that we are proud of?
New clause 3 does not go far enough, in that it has a caveat that I do not agree with. Nevertheless, it is a massive step in the right direction. Again, I want to see the ending of the policy of detention, as it is not a sign of the caring and compassionate country that I recognise the UK to be. The new clause will leave the provision for the Home Secretary to detain someone beyond 28 days by varying the time limit by category of person. In and of itself, it does not prevent cases such as that of Souleymane from happening again, as it hands the Home Secretary a wide discretionary power to overcome the 28-day obstacle.
Also, the parliamentary inquiry report suggested that the longer an individual is detained, the less likely it is that they will be removed from the UK. For example, the report found that, of the 178 people who have been detained for 12 months or more, 57% of them were ultimately released.
In talking about detention, I must use this opportunity to praise the work of the Scottish Refugee Council and other community-based organisations and groups that support asylum seekers on the frontline. Regardless of our political views, we should extend a debt of gratitude to those groups for the fantastic and at times difficult work that they do. The Bill and this provision in particular will have a significant impact on their work, and it is important that we support them when the Bill becomes law. Therefore, I ask the Immigration Minister to take time to meet groups such as the Scottish Refugee Council to learn more about the issues that they face, and to find out what support they need to perform their important jobs.
Detaining someone for any period of time is not something that we should be proud of. These detention centres are a symbol of the cruel approach that successive UK Governments have adopted with regard to asylum seekers. That is why we in the SNP do not think that the new clause goes far enough. The SNP policy on asylum seekers is more progressive. We want asylum seekers to have the chance to work, earn a living, pay tax and contribute to the community while they are waiting for a decision to be made on their application. Economically that makes sense but, more importantly, it is the right and moral thing to do.