Asylum seekers unlawfully held in removal centres for months despite courts ruling they can be released, lawyers warn

Exclusive: Homeless asylum seekers left to 'languish' in removal centres despite being granted bail because Home Office claims detention is 'not dissimilar' to emergency accommodation

The UK’s immigration detention system holds around 26,500 people each year and around 2,500 at any given time
The UK’s immigration detention system holds around 26,500 people each year and around 2,500 at any given time

The Home Office is unlawfully holding asylum seekers in immigration detention despite courts ruling they can be released, lawyers have warned.

Immigrants are being left to “languish” in removal centres for months on end after being granted bail because the Home Office is refusing to fulfil its duty to provide asylum accommodation, claiming emergency housing is “not dissimilar” to detention.

The government has a duty to provide housing for asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers who are released from detention and would otherwise be “destitute”.

But The Independent has been made aware of cases where immigrants with the right to be in the UK are denied housing, meaning they cannot be released. In other cases vulnerable asylum seekers have been released onto the streets with no accommodation.

One immigration law firm saying they were dealing with the problem on a daily basis.

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said the it was “cruel and callous” for the Home Office to hold asylum seekers with a right to live in the community in “prison style” removal centres, while Labour MP David Lammy said it was wrong to treat “innocent people like criminals”.

It comes amid mounting criticism of the UK’s immigration detention system, which currently holds around 26,500 people each year and around 2,500 at any given time. Recent figures obtained by The Independent revealed at least one person a day needs medical treatment for self-harming in detention, while the prisons watchdog described conditions in the centres as “prison-like”.

The government is already under intense scrutiny following the Windrush scandal, which revealed that Caribbean nationals who had lived in the UK for decades were wrongly detained in removal centres. As many as 5,000 Commonwealth citizens in Britain have since been identified as potentially having been deprived of their immigration rights.

In January, the government repealed a law that had enabled homeless detainees to apply for accommodation from within detention if they had nowhere to reside when released. This meant around 2,000 detainees who previously applied for this support each year are no longer able to, according to charities.

A separate accommodation provision is available for asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers if they would be destitute without it. But lawyers and groups working with detainees said this was difficult to obtain from within detention because they would fail the “destitution test”.

One male asylum seeker was granted bail in March after spending 10 months in detention, but his application for asylum accommodation was rejected by the Home Office on the grounds that he was “not destitute by the fact that he is being housed and his dietary needs are catered to”.

The refusal letter stated: “Detention is based around shared facilities (bedrooms, shower rooms and dining rooms) which is not dissimilar to emergency accommodation with lack of liberty being the main difference.”

The man’s grant of bail lapsed and he remained in detention.

In another case, a man who came to the UK in 2003 after fleeing torture in his home country was granted bail in March on the condition that an address for accommodation would be provided by the Home Office.

But the next day he was released with no address, and has since been relying on charities, asylum seekers and several individuals of good will for support with housing and food.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, told The Independent his team was seeing the issue on a daily basis.

“What we’re finding is that that Home Office is failing to provide accommodation in time. There are massive delays in them providing the accommodation, we’re talking months,” he said.

“Immigration judges decide all the conditions are right for the person to be released and they direct the Home Office to provide accommodation. But then we’re seeing nothing.”

Mr Hossain said that because the Home Office can’t be held in contempt of breaching a bail order, the department was often failing to act on providing accommodation unless the detainee issued unlawful detention proceedings.

“If they’re fortunate enough to get a decent lawyer who will issue unlawful detention proceedings, they can get an order from the high court saying the Home Office must provide accommodation within a set period of time, and it does miraculously find accommodation,” he added.

“They’re not prioritising it is because they’re immigrants, and it obviously costs money to provide accommodation. In the meantime, people languish in detention at the cost to the taxpayer. The harm caused to people who have a legitimate right to be released is inexplicable.”

Claire Sullivan, research and policy coordinator and charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), said the vast majority of detainees the charity supports was no longer able to apply for accommodation support from the Home Office.

“As a consequence, many detainees are being indefinitely detained for no other reason than their lack of suitable accommodation. Others have been released by the Home Office to the streets, potentially into destitution,” she added.

“As well as no application process, there is no appeal right for refusals to provide bail accommodation. Further, the Home Office does not provide reasons for refusals.”

Jerome Phelps, director of charity Detention Action, accused the Home Officeof creating a “bureaucratic black hole” for people in detention.

“People we work with are finding themselves detained in prison-like conditions indefinitely, with judges powerless to free them. Decisions by judges to order release become meaningless if the Home Office fails to provide the necessary address,” he said.

“The lack of a time limit on detention makes it urgent that the department return to respecting the release decisions of the independent judiciary.”

Responding to the findings, Ms Abbott said: “We have a legal and moral duty to treat refugees with fairness and humanity, but day after day we see just how cruel and callous the Tories’ hostile environment policy has become.

“Detention centres with their prison-style security are not appropriate accommodation for asylum seekers that have been given the right to remain. This practice must end.”

Mr Lammy echoed her view, saying: “It is totally wrong that the Home Office are holding asylum seekers in detention centres and treating innocent people like criminals.

“The principle of habeas corpus is the founding principle of our legal system, and yet in 2018 the Home Office is unlawfully depriving people of their liberty. It is time for a review of the hostile environment policy that underpins this cruelty.”

A Home Office spokesperson said it was aware of some cases of detainees waiting for accommodation to be allocated and that they were working closely with the accommodation providers, police and HM Prison and Probation Service to source suitable accommodation.

The spokesperson added: “Any asylum seeker, including those released from immigration detention on bail, can apply for accommodation and other support if they would otherwise be destitute.

“Decisions about accommodation and detention are made on a case by case basis and the individual’s welfare remains of the utmost importance throughout.

“We make every effort to offer suitable accommodation as quickly as possible when it is required.”

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