AVID Training
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Last week, the Illegal Migration Bill, essentially a Refugee Ban Bill, was voted through and became an Act of law.

The act threatens peoples basic right to liberty and places the UK on a collision course with international law. It is a shameful undoing of positive steps towards community-based alternatives to detention. It will result in a significant increase in the number of individuals subject to default, arbitrary, and prolonged detention. In doing so, it will have severe consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and cause huge harm to people subject to its powers.

The harm caused by detention is well-documented through the testimonies of people who have been detained, in research and by visitor groups working with people in detention. Recognition of the negative impact of immigration detention has resulted in a number of limitations, known as the Hardial Singh Principles, established in UK case law and subsequent Home Office policies. These set out that detention should only take place where there is a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable time period. The Hardial Singh Principles take their name from an early immigration case in which the claimant, Hardial Singh, attempted to take his own life following four months of detention.

In contrast, the act makes detention a first resort for anyone who arrives, or is suspected to have arrived, in the UK via an irregular route from the point of royal assent. There was an attempt to make an amendment, led by Lord Carlile of Berriew, to re-insert the Hardial Singh principles but this was rejected by the House of Commons. This is a shocking digression from well-accepted international norms that detention should be used only as a last resort and creates an alarming risk of enduring and arbitrary detention. These indiscriminate powers apply to children and victims of trafficking whilst limiting access to judicial oversight. The act removes the ability to apply for bail in the first 28 days of detention and restricts access to the High Court leaving individuals with limited means to challenge unlawful detention. Thereafter, detention is permitted to continue for as long as the Home Secretary considers “reasonably necessary” to carry out removal and in any place the Secretary of State “deems appropriate”. After some back and forth between the House of Lords and House of Commons, a clause has been added to allow unaccompanied children to apply for bail after 8 days in detention and the time limit for pregnant women, of 72 hours in detention, was re-instated.

The Illegal Migration Act consolidates the UK governments U-turn on the commitment to strengthen safeguards and explore alternatives to detention following the government-commissioned Shaw Review and several High Court rulings that people detained were submitted to degrading and inhumane treatment resulting in mental collapse and in breach of their human rights. These rulings make for distressing reading, including the use of handcuffs to prevent ongoing incidents of self-harm, but they are not isolated incidents and are a stark reminder of the human suffering caused by detention that the implications of the act will undoubtedly exacerbate.

It is set to expand detention to unprecedented levels. At present, around 2,500 people are detained at any one time and, at its peak in 2015, this number reached 3,531. Refugee Council have estimated that the act would require 10,728 additional bed spaces in detention, quadrupling the size of the detention estate. The intention to expand detention is incongruous with the unfurling crisis already taking place in detention in the UK. Repeatedly, detention has proven to be ineffective in its stated purpose, at huge cost to people detained. The vast majority of people who are detained are released on bail, often having made an asylum claim. Last year only 14% of those detained were removed from the UK, calling into question the senseless removal of liberty of people detained. Numbers in detention have been steadily increasing since the pandemic at the same time as safeguards are deteriorating. We have heard widespread reports from our members including inability to access healthcare appointments, inadequate and insufficient legal advice, and people being released into homelessness and destitution. Mental health crises’ have already been at the expense of Frank Ospina’s - who died in March of this year - life. This brings the death toll in detention centres in England and Wales to 40 people since 2000.

Yet if you type “Frank Ospina” into google news, just three relevant news articles come up. What we are told about Frank is limited to a guess at his age and his nationality. The news of his death came and went within the space of a week. We cannot let deaths in detention continue to go unnoticed.

All of this comes at the same time as we anticipate the report from the second of the Home Office ‘Alternatives to Detention’ pilots with Kings Arms Project. Information that has already been released demonstrated that more than 80% of those who received legal advice were presented with viable options to regularise their immigration status. This demonstrates not only the success of the project but the ineffectiveness of the current immigration system, which has led to an increasing number of people being undocumented in the UK due to the inaccessibility of legal advice. Detention is an extension of a flawed system and its punitive agenda.

The solution lies not in detaining more people but in addressing these systemic issues which perpetuate structural inequalities and prevent people from being able to meaningfully engage in communities.

At AVID, we know that we need both to build on our existing strengths as well as to develop new approaches if we are to see the communities we continue to believe in; cohesive communities which can welcome migration. Specifically, we plan to continue supporting our visitors groups to act in meaningful solidarity with those affected by detention; consolidate our collective voice on immigration detention; shift power to people with lived-experience of detention to lead our network and influence government; and strengthen collaboration across the movement to end detention.

But we cannot do this alone!

We hope you will join us in continuing to resist this divisive piece of legislation.

Support AVID:

AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees) is at the forefront of the fight against detention and for the rights of those affected by it. We provide vital support to visitors groups and advocate for the rights of those in detention. Your support is crucial in helping us continue this important work.

Donate now and stand with us in the fight for justice: Donate to AVID

By donating to AVID, you are contributing to the efforts to end detention, stall the expansion of detention, protect human rights, and be the change you want to see.

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