Number of people detained for longer than six months under Immigration Act powers increases by 10%

Campaigners say figures show the urgent need for reform of a 'bloated detention system' and accuse the Government of failing to act on 'scathing' findings last year

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The Independent Online

The number of people detained under Immigration Act powers for longer than six months has increased by 10 per cent in the past year, statistics have revealed.

A total of 317 people were detained in immigration removal centres, short term holding facilities or pre departure accommodation for more than six months in the first quarter of 2017 — a 10 per cent increase on the same quarter in 2016, when there were 287.

In the first quarter of 2017, 236 people were detained for between six months and a year, 69 between a year and 34 months and 12 between two and three years.

Campaigners have said that the figures show the urgent need for reform of a "bloated detention system", and accused the Government of failing to act on "scathing" findings of a government review into the system last year.

In January 2016, a government-commissioned review into the UK’s immigration detention system called on ministers to reduce “boldly and without delay” the number of people detained each year. 

The report, by former prisons and probation ombudsman Stephen Shaw, stated that there is no correlation between the number of people detained and the number of people lawfully deported, and highlighted medical research showing that immigration detention itself can seriously damage the mental health of detainees.

The then Immigration Minister James Brokenshire pledged following the publication of the review that the Government would make a number of reforms and broader changes in legislation, and that he expected these to lead to a reduction in the number of those detained and the duration of detention before removal.

However, while in the year after the review was launched the numbers of long-term detentions decreased by 47 per cent — falling from 488 and 261 between March and December 2015 — they have been steadily rising since.

In light of the statistics, Jerome Phelps, director of Detention Action, urged that the figures showed the urgent need for reform of a “bloated” detention system that he said is “massively wasteful of migrants' lives and taxpayers' money.”

Speaking to The Independent, Mr Phelps said: “These statistics are further evidence of the urgent need to reform the bloated detention system. Despite the scathing criticisms of the Parliamentary Inquiry and the Government's own review, more people are being detained, for longer periods. 

“Last year, the Government promised to reform the use of detention, reducing the numbers detained and the duration of detention, yet in practice the numbers of people who are going through this unnecessary trauma are actually increasing.  It is not delivering on this promise.

“Long-term detention is massively wasteful of migrants' lives and taxpayers' money, as in 2016 only 29 per cent of migrants leaving detention after a year were actually deported.”

Eiri Ohtani, director of the Detention Forum, meanwhile said: “The human costs of the promised but undelivered detention reform is thousands of men and women continue to be locked up in prison-like conditions not knowing when they will be released while their mental health deteriorate.  

“That UK has no time limit on administrative immigration detention is exceptional: a vast majority of the countries around the world have a legal detention time limit.”

One former detainee, named only as Sam, who was locked in an immigration centre for seven months and is now part of the Freed Voices group, told The Independent they were the “hardest months of [his] life".

“Every day in detention is unknown. It breaks you. The cocktail of fear and uncertainty…it makes your mind melt. We need the changes to the current system that the government promised last year. We need an end to indefinite detention," Sam added.

Another former detainee, Mishka, who was detained four months, said: “The Home Office say they don’t have a policy of indefinite detention but these statistics are just more proof they do not practice what they preach.

"You get a life-sentence when you enter detention. No one knows when they’ll get out. They are mental-torture chambers."

Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to end indefinite detention in their general election manifestos. The Conservative Party meanwhile makes no reference to migration detention.

Responding to the new statistics, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told The Independent: “Immigration for administrative purposes, when no crime has been committed, fundamentally goes against the democratic foundations of our society.

“Seeing this been used for even longer should be utterly aberrant to anyone who believes in justice.  The UK are alone in Western Europe in detaining people for immigration purposes indefinitely — this practice must end.”

The Conservative Party has been contacted for comment.

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