SDV director, Kate Alexander, takes a look at UK Government plans for immigration
Last month the UK Government produced a New Plan for Immigration with much media fanfare. The headline proposals, which promised to introduce ‘fairness’, focus on the treatment of asylum claims and ‘illegal immigration’, but a number of the proposals are relevant to detention and are of significant concern. We take a look at them here.
The introduction of ‘reception centres’ to provide ‘basic accommodation’ while processing the claims of people seeking asylum.
This extremely worrying proposal continues a recent trend to accommodate people seeking asylum in detention-like conditions, rather than in housing in the community. The example of the Penally Barracks in Wales and the Napier Barracks in Kent show how inappropriate such institutional accommodation is for people who are fleeing persecution and may have experienced significant trauma. Independent inspections of the sites found that people accommodated in them suffered depression and many had suicidal thoughts.
This is entirely in keeping with what we know from our own experience of supporting people in detention. Detention has a serious impact of on physical and mental health. Every week, we witness the deterioration in the people we visit and support. The Government knows this too, as detention’s detrimental effects on health were highlighted in the two reports it commissioned from Stephen Shaw in 2016 and 2018 on the detention of vulnerable people.
Furthermore, effective infection control in environments where people are living in close quarters is impossible. It is extraordinary that the Government is considering this when we are likely to be living with some level of covid restriction for some time.
In Scotland, the New Scots Strategy to welcome asylum seekers and refugees is based on integration from day one. The proposal for reception centres is entirely incompatible with this aim. Integration is impossible if people seeking asylum are detained in reception centres. They should be housed within communities, where they can live alongside exisiting communities, to enable the two-way process of integration can take place.
Amending the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to enable asylum claims ‘to be processed outside the UK and in another country’.
This proposal opens up the prospect of offshore detention, an even more extreme proposal than reception centres. The many failures of offshore detention in Australia have been well documented. It has been described as a human rights disaster and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law. It also failed in its stated aim to reduce the number of people arriving by boat to claim asylum in Australia.
Enforcing removals including of foreign nationals who have served a prison sentence
The plan proposes a number of measures aimed at increasing removals, particularly of people who have served a prison sentence. This is likely to increase the number of people being detained, including those detained in prison. Coupled with the proposals to reduce the legal options to challenge deportation, the proposals run the risk of increasing illegal detentions and deportations. They will also exacerbate anxiety and mental ill health of people affected.
Making ‘fuller use’ of immigration bail powers such as ‘residence conditions, reporting arrangements and monitoring’.
This proposal is not for additional powers but is a statement of intent to make the already hostile environment more hostile. Members of our Life After Detention group, all of whom have experienced detention and live in fear of being redetained, speak of the restrictions they endure in the community as ‘detention without walls’. The ‘fuller use’ of already coercive powers will exacerbate the encroachment of detention conditions into community settings. It is also likely to see more people being detained at reporting appointments.
Decreasing the threshold for revoking someone’s refugee status to anyone who has been sentenced 12 months’ imprisonment or more, making them liable to removal.
Considering someone’s asylum claim ‘inadmissable’ if they travel through a country the UK deems to be ‘safe’ and seeking to remove that person to that country as fast as possible.
Introducing a new form of ‘Temporary Protection Status’ with no automatic right to settle in the UK.
These three proposals expand the categories of people subject to removal, which in turn will increase the number of people the government seeks to detain in an effort to facilitate removal.
The right approach
In 2018, in the light of the recommendations of the second Shaw review, which it commissioned, the government made a commitment to detention reform and to the increased the use of community based alternatives. It is a cause for alarm that these proposals represent a reversal of that commitment and take an almost entirely enforcement-based approach to immigration.
There is ample evidence from both home and abroad that systems that using a case management approach to resolve people’s immigration issues in the community are highly effective. Such systems are more humane, they aid integration in the event of a positive decision and increase compliance with negative decisions.
The community support project managed by Detention Action has shown that community based approaches can also be effective for people with criminal convictions. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the Government’s proposals seek to stoke public fears about crime with a heavy emphasis on ‘foreign national offenders’. Many of the people we support fall in this category, many have been in the UK for years and have children who would be adversely affected by their detention and deportation. Seeking to speed up the process will only increase its injustices.
Ensuring people receive appropriate advice and support to resolve their immigration case while they are serving their sentence would ensure people would not be punished twice for their offences: once by their prison sentence and then by being detained indefinitely. Any danger to the public could be assessed properly and arrangements put in place to manage risk in the community, as would be the case for any other prisoner reaching the end of their sentence.
If the Government were serious about reforming the system to make it fairer, these are the approaches it would be adopting. They would enable people to resolve their immigration issues and reduce the use of detention. That they have chosen not to shows their concern is to signal their ‘firmness’ not to deliver a fairer system.
The government is currently consulting on these proposals. You can respond here. The deadline is 6 May.