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Immigration Detention – what is the real purpose?

I represent people at the police station almost every day of the week. In almost all cases, the child or adult who has been arrested will have spent hours in a police cell before they see me. It is a traumatic and bewildering experience, whether it’s their first arrest or tenth. People are frightened and suffering from immense stress.

After being interviewed, the evidence against the person is assessed by the police or the crown prosecution service and a decision is made about whether they will be charged or whether the case should be dropped and the person released to go home.

Last night, as I have seen many times before, a man was told that despite not being charged with any offences, he would not be released. He was going to be taken to an immigration detention centre. He was told it was many hours away and he would arrive in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning. He was silent as the police put handcuffs on him. I do not know what happened to him afterwards.

Once in immigration detention, it can take months or years before individuals are released or sent to another country. People can be sent to countries they have never been to or have left when they were a small child.

There is no legal aid available to challenge removal, unless there is an asylum claim. Claims based purely on the right to a family and private life, under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, are not eligible for legal aid, except through the limited exceptional funding scheme. This exclusion serves to deliberately deny representation to many detainees and only a quarter of all detainees have access to legal aid.

The people who are indefinitely held in immigration detention centres come from all over the world. Thousands come from countries that were previously colonised by Britain and whose relatives lost their lives fighting for freedom from British rule. Many have relatives who fought alongside British citizens in the First and Second World Wars and who died defending Britain and the freedoms of British citizens.

Britain has a long history of detention centres. As late as 1960 Britain was still rounding up men from their homes and keeping them for years in detention camps in Kenya during the fight for independence. Many were tortured and died.

Today the UK has one of the largest networks of immigration detention facilities in Europe and children are regularly detained. 39 people have died in immigration detention centres or shortly after release in the last year alone. Self harm and mental health problems are rife. Physical and sexual abuse is also common.

Detention centres do not benefit UK citizens. Detaining an individual costs an average of £91 a day and serves to increase revenues of companies such as G4S, funded by the public purse. Immigrants and the descendants of immigrants have helped to build this country. They are not the cause of low wages, high rents, and the decimation of our public services, unemployment or inequality.

Whatever ones views on immigration policy, the detention of people for ideological purposes and not for the safety of the public is incompatible with democratic society and threatens the civil liberties of everyone.

Detention is not a necessary part of our migration governance system and it is vital that civil society moves towards developing community based alternatives.

Read Detention Actions full report on the alternatives to detention here.

The author of this blog is Elena Papamichael who has left the firm. If you have a question about the issues raised in this blog, please contact the Criminal Defence team on 0330 822 3451.