The indefinite detention of migrants by the British Government is utterly iniquitous. Nobody would doubt that it is essential for our immigration agencies to deal carefully with any cases that might end in deportation. And it is understandable that the authorities should want to know the whereabouts of the individuals concerned. But keeping them under lock and key for years on end simply cannot be right.
Quite apart from the damage that detention can do to the mental health of those whose liberty has been denied, the Home Office’s failure to get a grip on this issue has cost the taxpayer a vast amount of money – in the running of centres like that at Yarl’s Wood and as a result of compensation payouts to those who are judged by the courts to have been held unlawfully. The suggestion that more than 60 per cent of migrants who are detained for more than a year are eventually released, rather than deported, surely points to the folly of the current set-up.
The call today by Citizens UK for a time limit to detention is welcome and should be heeded by all political leaders as we approach the general election in May. This is not about being soft on immigration – and certainly not about being soft on crime, since the individuals concerned are not criminals. Rather it is about demonstrating to people here and elsewhere two things. First, that the Government and its agencies can oversee a complex immigration system competently and efficiently. And second, that humanity does not come a poor second behind administrative convenience when it suits the powers-that-be. On both moral and practical grounds, the system as it stands is broken. Ensuring an end to indefinite detention would be a step towards fixing it.
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