In this blog, SDV Director, Kate Alexander, takes a look at the latest detention figures from the Home Office. She looks at the issues for the whole of the UK but also at the particular issues for Scotland.
The UK picture
Today’s release of the latest detention statistics from the Home Office provide an opportunity to check the extent to which the UK Government has delivered on its promise of detention reform. Two years ago, in his report examining the detention of vulnerable people, Sir Stephen Shaw urged the government to act ‘boldly and without delay’ to reduce the use of detention. Shaw’s follow-up review is underway, and today’s figures suggest that he is unlikely to be very impressed by action to date.
The figures show that 27,331 people entered detention in 2017, a reduction of just 5% from 2016. Any fall in the number of people being detained is welcome, but this small drop is far from the drastic reduction envisaged by Shaw. Detaining more people than the entire population of Clydebank, at a cost of around £30,000 per person per year is a colossal waste of public funds. And of course the human cost is incalculable.
The number of people leaving detention also fell, but by just 2%, from 28,677 in 2016 to 28,244 in 2017. However, an examination of the reasons for leaving show that detention remains as ineffective as ever in achieving its stated purpose of removing people from the country. Under half (47%) of those leaving detention in 2017 were removed from the UK – the same percentage as 2017. Once again, the question arises as to why these people were detained in the first place, only to be released.
It is when we look at the length of detention that what the UK Government must do to deliver the change demanded by Shaw becomes clear.
The UK remains the only country in Europe without a time limit on detention. Over recent years, the calls to end this injustice have grown louder. Yesterday, the Labour Party reiterated their manifesto pledge to end indefinite detention. Last week, faith leaders added their voice to the campaign, and Liberty are calling on the UK Government to include a 28 day time limit in its legislation to establish a post-Brexit immigration system.
At the end of 2017, 70% of the 2,545 people in detention had been detained for more than 28 days.
At a stroke, a 28 day time limit would massively reduce the numbers detained. It would also end the scandal of long term detention. At the end of 2017, 64 people had been detained for more than a year. One person had been detained for more than four and a half years (1,698 days).
The picture in Scotland
In contrast to the picture for the UK, between 2016 and 2017, there was a 30% increase in the number of people being brought to Dungavel as their initial place of detention (from 1,236 to 1,669). Throughout 2016, the population in Dungavel was very low. In the early part of the year, this was related to an outbreak of illness. Later, the announcement that Dungavel would close, may have affected the numbers being sent there. At the end of 2017, 128 people were detained in Dungavel, compared to 116 at the same time in 2016 – an increase of 10%.
Of greater interest is the change in the nationalities of the people detained there. Over the year, our visitors were aware of seeing more and more EU citizens detained in Dungavel. Our own visit statistics for 2017 show that 24% of the 238 people we visited were EU citizens. This compares to just 3% in 2016.
Across the whole of the UK, 19% of people entering detention in 2017 were EU citizens (a rise from 16% in 2016). For those entering detention in Dungavel, however, the proportion had gone up from 18% in 2016 to 33% in 2017 – the highest of any detention centre in the UK.
It is not possible to say from the figures how many of these people had been living in Scotland before their detention or in other parts of UK. Nevertheless, it is clear than Dungavel is increasingly becoming a place of detention for Europeans.
In January 2018, the SNP highlighted the issue of the number EU citizens in detention, and expressed concern about some of the reasons for their detention. Our own visit reports suggest their concerns are not out of place. People told us they had been detained while begging and sleeping rough. Others told us they had not been charged with or convicted of any offence in the UK but were detained on the basis of offences, often minor, that they had committed in their home countries. All were shocked to find themselves in detention while exercising their rights of freedom of movement within the EU.
Sign Liberty’s petition calling for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention here.
Ask your MP to sign this EDM calling for a 28 day time limit, if they haven’t done so yet.