In our latest blog, SDV director Kate Alexander looks at the latest official detention statistics, the first since the Covid-19 crisis began.

The UK government today released the latest statistics on detention, for the year ending 31 March 2020, a week after the lock down, and nearly two weeks after Detention Action launched their legal challenge calling for the release of everyone in detention. The commentary to the statistics acknowledges the impact of Covid-19 and it is plain to see in the figures.

At the end of March 2020, there were 895 people in immigration detention (555 in detention centres and 340 held under immigration powers in prison), down from 1,637 at the end of December 2019, and less than half the number as at 31 March 2019 (1,839). The reduction in the number detained can be explained by a dramatic fall in the number of people held in detention centres from 1,278 at the end of December 2019 to 555 at the end of March 2020. The number of people held in prison fell by just 19, from 359 to 340 over the same period.

The number entering detention in the first quarter of 2020 fell by 22 per cent to 4,785 compared to 6,153 for the same period in 2019. But looking at the figures for those leaving detention shows the most dramatic change.  In the first quarter of 2019, 39 per cent of people leaving detention were removed from the country. In the same period in 2020, that had fallen to just 29 per cent, reflecting the travel restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19, which were imposed during the period. At the same time, the proportion of people being granted Secretary of State immigration bail rose from 48 per cent in the first quarter of 2019, to 57 per cent in the same period in 2020. This steep rise in the proportion being granted bail is likely to reflect the hundreds of people released in the wake of Detention Action’s legal challenge, launched in the middle of March.

In common with many organisations supporting and advocating for people in immigration detention, Scottish Detainee Visitors has experienced some difficulty in accessing information about the situation in the detention centre we work in during the current crisis. The release of these figures gives us the first opportunity to examine the situation in Dungavel since the lockdown was imposed. The data shows that at the end of March this year, 26 people were detained in Dungavel compared to 72 at the same time last year, and 42 at the end of December 2019. This is the lowest number ever detained at the centre and that is obviously to be welcomed, but there remain concerns about the people who remain there.

Scottish Detainee Visitors are in touch with a number of people who are still in Dungavel. They tell us that they estimate the number detained there to be in the region of 20-25. Some have been there for some time, but there continue to be new arrivals at the centre, mainly from prison, but some from other detention centres. We understand both from the people in detention who we are speaking to, and from GEO group’s submission to the Home Affairs Committee enquiry into Home Office preparedness for COVID-19 that social distancing measures have been introduced and that people detained in Dungavel are seeing medical staff regularly.

But they should not be there. The purpose of detention is to remove people from the country and this is virtually impossible in the current crisis. But more important is the impact continuing detention has on the people affected. We know that detention is detrimental to health at the best of times and even with the best efforts of staff in Dungavel, keeping people safe and healthy in the context of a highly contagious virus, with continued movement of people in and out of the centre presents huge challenges. The stress and anxiety people in Dungavel are experiencing in the current crisis is exacerbated by their increased isolation because of the lockdown. It’s time for the Home Office to act to release all everyone in detention in a safe ngavand managed way.

Please sign Detention Action’s emergency petition. Please also write to your MP. Bail for Immigration Detainees have produced a template to help you do this.

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