Examination of Witnesses

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:17 pm on 9th June 2020.

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Bella Sankey:

Thanks very much, Ms Lynch. For some time now, Detention Action has been working with a coalition of civil society organisations, including the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Stonewall and others, and with MPs across the divide—Conservative, Democratic Unionist Party, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat MPs—to build a consensus around the idea that there needs to be a strict statutory time limit on immigration detention.

Immigration detention is a peculiarity of our public policy, in that there is no time limit. Unlike the criminal justice system or the mental health system, you can currently be detained indefinitely for months or years, and redetained indefinitely for months or years, without any statutory time limit in place if you are subject to immigration control.

It is a sweeping power that was introduced in 1971, when a series of immigration Acts acted to limit immigration from Commonwealth countries with the explicit intention of trying to reduce black and brown migration to the UK. The system was set up then, and has not been properly amended or looked at by Parliament. From the 1970s right up until the 1990s, a handful of people were detained, but it is now the case that thousands and thousands of people are detained each year. At present, as we sit here, 12 people in immigration detention have been there for more than one year.

The system is arbitrary and cruel. There is a crisis of self-harm in the system. Every day, my caseworkers speak to people who have suicidal ideation as a result of the indefinite nature of their detention. That is what everyone who has experienced the system will tell you: it is the indefinite nature that creates psychological torture and uncertainty. That means that people begin to lose the will to go on and live. We are seeking to implement a time limit through this Bill.