​‘Deeply scarring’: Labour vows to outlaw indefinite detention of asylum seekers

Кугеукы / Ueslei Marcelino
Labour has pledged to introduce new limits on the amount of time a person can remain trapped in Britain’s asylum and immigration system, a policy shift that would protect migrants’ human rights and ban indefinite detention in the UK.

The party's vow to tackle indefinite detention in the UK has been welcomed by Britain’s Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick and a number of human rights groups across the state. The proposed policy is a direct response to delays in the state’s immigration and asylum processes, which have been mounting steadily since 2010.

Britain is currently the only state in the European Union (EU) that doesn’t have a limit on the timespan for which asylum seekers can be detained.

In a scathing attack on the state’s immigration and asylum laws, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the system is flawed, inefficient and “deeply scarring” for those who are imprisoned in detention centers such Yarl’s Wood.

Her sentiments were echoed by a cross-party panel of MPs earlier this month, who called for an end to the indefinite detention of migrants. Following an inquiry into Britain’s detention practices, the panel warned related human costs to inmates’ mental health were utterly unacceptable.

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In a damning report, the panel said the Home Office had failed to follow its own guidelines which stipulate detention should be used sparingly.

The MPs expressed shock at the horrific testimonies of current and former inmates, some of whom described suicide attempts and sexual harassment.

The panel said indefinite detention had “significant mental health costs for detainees, as well as considerable financial costs to the taxpayer.” It concluded migrants and asylum seekers should be held for no longer than 28 days and even this should be an “absolute last resort.”

At present, however, Britain’s policy of indefinite detention remains intact.

Over the past five years, greater numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants are being detained for longer than three months, less concrete decisions are being made, and a growing number of people remain incarcerated in a cruel state of limbo.

Some 700 migrants were detained for up to 12 months last year, while some have been held for over four years. Additionally, the number of people detained for three to six months rose from 1,757 in 2010 to 2,385 in 2014.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has confirmed Labour will set up a consultation in a bid to discern fair and appropriate timespans for detention, and other important safeguards for policy-making with respect to migrants’ applications.

READ MORE: ‘Treat us like humans’: Asylum seekers issue Harmondsworth hunger strike demands

As many in Britain are only detained for a few days, Labour has said it wishes to avoid unnecessarily complicating the system and normalizing a new maximum time limit in the process.

A number of policy changes have been suggested. One option would be to boost reporting requirements for asylum applicants awaiting a decision from the state. Additionally, Labour plans to scrap indefinite detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual violence.

Labour’s pledge to tackle Britain’s asylum and immigration crisis will likely spark debate, with critics claiming it could pave the way for asylum seekers and immigrants going into hiding once they are released.

In a move to appease voters’ anxieties, Cooper said Labour would recruit and hire 1,000 extra border and immigration enforcement officers to speed up the pace of decision-making, highlight regulatory breaches, and enforce the removal of unsuccessful applicants.

The Shadow Home Secretary said this extra manpower would be funded by a levy on visitors to the UK who do not hold a visa.

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Labour argues those who have breached immigration rules or have been unsuccessful in their asylum claim have no right to be in the UK, and should be deported or willfully leave the state. Such cases should be characterized by the minimum amount of detention time and a just, efficient and fast decision-making process, the party insists.

It stresses its proposed new time limits for detention will not apply to people who are being deported as a result of criminal behavior or those who pose a threat to public safety or national security.

Outlining the party’s far-reaching policy proposal in Birmingham on Thursday, the Shadow Home Secretary will warn Britain’s immigration detention system is broken.

While Cooper will acknowledge that immigration and asylum regulations must be implemented, she is expected to argue that they must be humane.

“Indefinite detention of people who have committed no crime – and without even any independent review – is wrong,” she will say.

“It can be deeply scarring – especially for asylum seekers who have already suffered abuse. And it is extremely expensive for taxpayers. No other Western nation does it.”