Home Office has "utterly failed" on immigration detention, report says

21 March 2019, 00:14 | Updated: 21 March 2019, 04:19

The Home Office has "utterly failed" in its management of immigration detention, according to a parliamentary report which calls for a 28-day time limit and a "more humane decision making process" for detainees.

The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) branded the Home Office attitude to immigration detention "shockingly cavalier" and pinpointed "serious failings in almost every area of the immigration detention process".

They include vulnerable people being inappropriately detained and not adequately supported, a lack of judicial oversight on detention decisions and the absence of a time limit in immigration detention.

"Over the course of this inquiry we have heard a catalogue of failures in the immigration detention system," MP Stuart McDonald, who sat on the committee, said.

"It is unacceptable for people to be held for an indeterminate length of time for immigration purposes, worse still in conditions that are more likely to exacerbate physical and mental health issues."

Yvette Cooper, chair of the committee, said it had "warned before of the need for a culture change at the Home Office" so "decisions about people's lives are made rigorously and with care".

The report was prompted by mounting criticism of the immigration detention system following revelations of detainees being violently abused at Brook House - problems the report found were not isolated.

Earlier this year, the Shaw Review into immigration detention also concluded that vulnerable people who should not be in detention centres were being held in unacceptable conditions.

Several former detainees told Sky News their experience reflected the assessment that the system was "failing" and spoke of detention having a debilitating effect on their mental health, in centres where conditions were poor and self harm was commonplace.

"It has indeed failed," Stella Shyanguyga, who was detained in Yarl's Wood for over nine months in 2016 before being released, told Sky News.

"The system is racist, and very subjective. People who are extremely vulnerable, who are trafficked, who have gone through torture and exploitation, are in detention."

Home Office statistics show 26,541 people were placed in administrative immigration detention in the year to March 2018, and more than half are eventually released.

Campaigners say this raises questions about the necessity of keeping people in immigration detention, which the select committee report notes should be used only as "a last resort prior to removal". It added that the Home Office should do more to ensure people were only detained as a last option.

"Full credit to MPs on the HASC for this game-changer report on our failing immigration detention system," Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, said.

"They have uncovered deep dysfunction and concluded urgent and fundamental reforms are needed, starting with a 28 day time limit."

Responding to the report, the Home Office denied it detained people indefinitely. It said the decision to detain was reviewed by a detention gatekeeper and said vulnerable people were detained only when the immigration considerations "outweigh the evidence of vulnerability".

"Detention is an important part of our immigration system - but it must be fair, humane and used only when absolutely necessary," a spokesperson said.

"We are committed to going further and faster with reforms to immigration detention and a comprehensive cross-government programme of work is in hand to deliver on that commitment."