Covid-19: NGOs call for people to be released from immigration detention


Ten human rights and legal organisations have written to the Home Secretary to demand the release of all people from immigration detention.

The letter, which you can read below, was jointly signed by Bail for Immigration Detainees, Medical Justice, Detention Action, Medact, Right to Remain, Women for Refugee Women, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Migrants Organise, Liberty, and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. It says that “there is a very real risk of an uncontrolled outbreak of Covid-19 in immigration detention”, asks what action the Home Office has planned, and calls for the release of all people from detention.

The letter was published in the media over the weekend, and won the support of the Shadow Immigration Minister, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP.

“I fully support calls from migration campaigners and lawyers to release immigration detainees on public health grounds amid the Coronavirus outbreak.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Shadow Immigration Minister

Bail for Immigration Detainees initiated the letter, and wrote on their website:

There is a serious risk that Coronavirus could spread quickly throughout all immigration removal centres. Such diseases tend to spread more quickly through sites of incarceration and the risk is heightened by the fact that people in immigration detention may have recently entered the UK from high-risk countries. People are frequently moved between centres and so the infection is likely to spread rapidly across the entire detention estate, and detention healthcare facilities are ill-prepared.

In addition to those detained, the risk to all staff, lawyers and NGOs working in immigration detention is acute. This is a crisis waiting to happen, but the government appears to have made no preparations. We urge the government to immediately release all immigration detainees. To do any less would show blatant disregard for the lives of those held in immigration detention.

Dear Home Secretary,

We are writing to express our concern about the very real risk of an uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19 in immigration detention and to ask what measures the Home Office has put in place to address this.

There is a very serious risk that the virus could spread quickly throughout all immigration removal centres. COVID- 19 is highly infectious and such diseases tend to spread more quickly in prisons and other sites of incarceration. The risk is heightened by the fact that people in immigration detention may have entered the UK in recent weeks from countries where the incidence of COVID-19 is far more widespread such as Italy. Immigration detainees are also frequently moved between different immigration removal centres and so the infection is likely to spread rapidly across the entire detention estate.

Many people in immigration detention are highly vulnerable and have pre-existing health conditions. This makes it more likely that they will be severely harmed by COVID-19.

We are concerned that measures to prevent the risk or spread of coronavirus in detention may undermine detainees’ access to justice and/or access to medico-legal reports. This is because NGOs and duty solicitors that provide these services in detention may decide that the risk of contracting COVID-19, or passing on the disease to people in immigration detention, is too great. If this were to be the case then this would call into question the lawfulness of immigration detention and removals.

In order to prevent the disease spreading rapidly among detainees, custody officers, healthcare staff and all others in Immigration Removal Centres, the government should immediately release all immigration detainees. This is in the interests of public health. We are concerned that if the government does not act now, detainees will continue to be held in close proximity, in a high-risk environment, leading to a preventable spread of the virus and losses of life.

Detention can only be justified where there is a prospect of imminent removal and as borders close around the globe and strict travel restrictions are implemented, the removal system is going to become much harder to operate, making increased numbers of removals and detentions unlawful.

If there are not currently any plans to release people from immigration detention to prevent the spread of COVID- 19, please outline any steps that the Home Office is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within Immigration Removal Centres, while also maintaining their right to access legal advice and the First-tier Tribunal.

  • How many people in immigration detention have been tested for COVID-19?
  • Are there plans to test immigration detainees or people who work in Immigration Removal Centres for COVID-19?
  • What response is the Home Office taking when an immigration detainee or somebody who works in immigration detention tests positive for COVID-19?
  • Will people who test positive for COVID-19 remain in detention?
  • Will people who test positive for COVID-19 still face enforced removal from the UK?
  • Will people who test negative for COVID-19 be released from immigration detention?
  • Will people who have pre-existing health conditions be released from detention?
  • Assuming that you may decide not to release all people held in immigration detention, what steps are you taking to maintain access to legal advice and access to the First-tier Tribunal in the event of the spread of the Covid 19 virus?

We ask that you please respond to this letter as a matter of urgency.


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