Voluntary monitoring body says detention of vunerable and those with mental illness remains a huge concern
Independent Monitoring Board’s annual report on immigration detention finds too many vulnerable people are being detained
04 November 2019
The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), which is a voluntary body monitoring the welfare of prisoners in the UK, last week released its annual report on the immigration detention estate. You can read the report here.
The headline finding is that while there were some improvements during 2018, concerns still remain and there are too many vulnerable people being detained, including those with pre-existing mental health concerns.
The report states: "One of the most important and frequently-encountered aspects of detainee vulnerability is mental illness. IMBs continue to be concerned about the number of detainees presenting with mental health problems. At its most extreme, this can result in the detainee being sectioned under the Mental Health Act and removed to a secure treatment facility, and, although this happened to fewer detainees in 2018 than in 2017, IMBs still regard this as a matter of huge concern."
Incidents of self-harm were found to be high enough to cause concern at a number of immigration removal centres.
In addition, the report notes: "IMBs report difficulties for detainees suffering from other conditions which may deteriorate, or for which there is not adequate provision, in detention. The Yarl's Wood IMB reported a shocking case from April 2018 when a couple and their adult son were brought to the centre a few days before their planned removal. The young man suffered from epilepsy and had a learning disability. The trauma of detention and the uncertainty of the future caused his health to deteriorate rapidly. The IMB immediately identified that he should not have been detained, and the family was subsequently released."
The IMB annual report also raises concerns over the high proportion of detainees who are released from detention rather than being removed.
According to the IMB, only 44% of those who left detention in 2018 were returned from the UK to another country: "As the purpose of detention is to facilitate removal, this appears to call into question the original decision to detain, and IMBs view this as a serious matter, given the harmful effects of detention on physical and mental health."
Detention without a time limit remains an ongoing concern for IMBs: "From their many conversations with detainees, IMB members have a unique and clear insight into the anxiety and stress caused by immigration detention itself, especially the fact that, unlike a prison sentence, this form of detention currently has no legal time limit. We consider this to be unfair and inhumane. The fact that detainees do not know how long they will be detained, combined with the stress and uncertainty of their immigration cases, and the worry about families or children living in the community, causes enormous distress."
On the positive side, the IMB highlighted some improvements in 2018, including a decrease in the number of people in detention and fewer examples of excessive periods in detention. Improvements in conditions were also noted in removal centres.
In summary, Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of IMBs, said: "While some improvements have been made, sometimes in direct response to IMBs raising concerns, there are still serious concerns about the use and effect of immigration detention. Procedures for recognising and responding to vulnerability were not working consistently, and we will be continuing to monitor this over the coming year."
In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: "Detention is an important part of the immigration system - but it must be fair, dignified and protect the most vulnerable. We have made significant improvements to our approach in recent years, but remain committed to going further.
"We continue to explore alternatives to detention, increase transparency around immigration detention, further improve the support available for vulnerable detainees and initiate a new drive on detainee dignity."