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“We are concerned that if the situation is not addressed with some urgency, alongside the public health crisis we are facing, there will also be a very real crisis of mental health inside the UK’s detention facilities”

Detention support organisations call for urgent action to protect individuals at risk during COVID19 crisis

Members of AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees) -  organisations providing support to people detained in every single removal centre, residential short term holding facility, and some prisons -  have published a letter outlining our key concerns in regards to the Government’s response to immigration detention in light of the COVID 19 crisis.

Signed by 12 organisations across the UK who are in day to day contact with people in detention, the letter highlights the ‘woefully inadequate’ guidance published online which contains sparse detail about how people will be kept safe while they remain in detention. The organisations are calling for managed, safe, and supported release, as many hundreds of people are at real risk if the virus spreads within these prison environments.

AVID members, supporting people at centres like Brook House, Harmondsworth, and Yarl’s Wood, are hearing first hand how terrified people are. The letter – available here in full – lists several concerns about the way in which people are being treated inside detention, and covers a range of  areas where further urgent action is needed to ensure people can stay safe while also having their rights and freedoms protected. This ranges from improving access to basic protection measures and adequacy of healthcare provision inside right through to the availability of information and support; access to fresh air, exercise and meaningful activity and being able to maintain communication with friends, family, and legal advisers. The letter addressed to Immigration Enforcement also flags the slow response of the Government so far to concerns the groups have been raising for some weeks.

Ali McGinley, AVID Director said ‘We are extremely worried by what we are hearing from those inside detention who feel they have been left behind as the rest of the country works to slow the spread of this virus. Many people are reporting how difficult it is to maintain even basic hygiene measures or to implement social distancing in a prison environment. Anxieties are running high and the impact on people’s mental health is devastating. It is vital that action is taken with some urgency, as this has already gone on too long’

Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, said "We are extremely concerned that there are still people being held in detention. There is little prospect of removing people from the country because of the currnet crisis, so their detention serves no purpose. We know that detention damages people's health at the best of times and even with the best efforts of staff in the centres, keeping people safe and well in the context of this highly contagious virus presents enormous challenges. The people we are in contact with are stressed and anxious and this is exacerbated by their increased isolation due to the lockdown. It's time for the Home Office to act"

The letter was signed by AVID, Detention Action, Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, HMP Lewes Foreign Nationals Visitors Project, Jesuit Refugee Service UK, Larne House Visitors Group, Manchester Immigration Detainee Support Team, Morton Hall Detainee Visitors Group, Scottish Detainee Visitors, Sudanese Visitors Group, SOAS Detainee Support Group and Yarl's Wood Befrienders.

3rd April 2020

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