Again we say, no one left behind

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Amidst the turmoil of Brexit negotiations, the uncertain political timetables and seemingly more division than ever in our political world, has come a rare moment of unity.

Earlier this week, as the proposed Immigration Bill was debated in the House of Commons, there was cross-party support for (long overdue) detention reform.

This follows the announcement of MP Harriet Harman (chair of the joint committee on human rights), that she was confident of getting an amendment added to the Bill, to introduce a time-limit on detention.

Why are we campaigning for a time-limit?

Right to Remain has campaigned for an end to indefinite detention for many years now. We see a time-limit as a first step in ending detention altogether. Once a time-limit is in place – and with the Detention Forum we are calling for a maximum time-limit of 28 days – it will be easy to demonstrate that the alternatives to detention work. Less people will be detained, detention centres will be closed, and the case for ending all detention can be very strongly made.

As our friends at Scottish Detainee Visitors have pointed out,

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).

It is therefore very welcome news that we seem to be closer than ever to ending this injustice, and an amendment that succeeds in introducing a time-limit on detention would be a positive addition to a nasty piece of legislation.

Freedom is indivisible

It’s not all good news, however. The press coverage of Harriet Harman’s amendment has suggested that people with previous criminal convictions (exceeding 12 months) would be excluded from the 28 day time-limit on detention.

As we wrote back in 2015, when people with convictions were similarly excluded from the automatic bail provisions brought in by the 2016 Immigration Act, foreign nationals who have served a criminal sentence in the UK are the people most affected by long-term detention.  

Legal protection from breaches of human rights is essential for everybody, therefore judicial review of immigration detention should be everybody.  Particularly when those most at risk of harm and injustice through long-term detention are those excluded from the proposed improvements.

Without a universal time-limit on detention, thousands of people will still face months and years of detention.

As Benny Hunter wrote on our blog last year:

No one, regardless of their immigration status or their criminal history, should be deprived of their right to liberty for the convenience of the Home Office and then left in limbo indefinitely.

We cannot allow immigration detention to become a way of extending prison sentences by the back-door.  The UK has a criminal justice system to manage criminality, and the government should not be using a detention system that has even less legal protections and scrutiny than prison.

As Michael Darko of the Freed Voices group (who gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into immigration detention) noted:

“A time limit that fails to protect thousands of those subjected to the horrors of indefinite detention will not deliver the justice that is so deeply needed.”

Mishka, also of the Freed Voices group, warns that a time-limit that excludes people with past convictions is:

“a dangerous precedent and is a pitfall we have to avoid.”

We are thankful that there is appetite for meaningful reform of immigration detention. Indefinite definition is one of the gravest civil rights issues in the UK. But we do not want a hollow victory.

Please contact your MPs and express your support for a maximum 28 day time-limit for all.

You can find a template letter to contact your MPs via the These Walls Must Fall website here, and other actions you can take here.

We are thankful that there is appetite for meaningful reform of immigration detention. Indefinite detention is one of the gravest civil rights issues in the UK. But we do not want a hollow victory.

Please contact your MPs and express your support for a maximum 28 day time-limit for all.

You can find a template letter to contact your MPs via the These Walls Must Fall website here, and other actions you can take here.

We will be putting out more calls to action when the amendments on the Immigration Bill are agreed – keep tuned to our social media!

Rights and justice for all.  No-one left behind. #TheseWallsMustFall



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