Religious leaders call on Home Secretary to put a time limit on immigration detention

By agency reporter
February 17, 2018

Religious leaders have issued a joint public statement calling on the Home Secretary to use her post-Brexit immigration bill to end the Government’s use of indefinite detention – calling it “unjust, ineffective and inhumane”.

Senior representatives of the Church of England, Catholic Church, Muslim Council of Britain, Hindu Council, Sikh Federation, Reform Judaism and others have urged the Government to include a 28-day limit on in the forthcoming bill, which will establish the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system.

Their statement reads:

“The UK is the only European country without a statutory time limit on immigration detention. The routine use of indefinite detention is unjust, ineffective and inhumane. Evidence shows that it causes huge harm – not only to those detained, but to their family, children, friends and community.

“The time to act is now. We urge the Government to put some fairness, decency and due process into our immigration system and urgently put a 28-day time limit on detention.”

Every year, the Home Office holds around 30,000 people on immigration grounds, including elderly people and survivors of rape, torture and slavery – making the UK’s one of the largest detention regimes in Europe. No judge signs off on their detention and there is no legal limit on how long they can be held purely for the administrative convenience of the Home Office. 

The UK is the only country in Europe without any time limit on detention – an approach criticised by the UN Refugee Agency, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and a cross-party parliamentary inquiry, among many others.

This intervention comes as human rights organisation Liberty launches a major public campaign to End Indefinite Detention. The religious leaders have also added their voices to Liberty’s petition making the same call to the Home Secretary.

Research by the British Medical Association, Amnesty International, Detention Action, Women for Refugee Women and many others has revealed that indefinite detention causes serious mental and physical harm.

Their findings add to the concerns expressed by Government-appointed reviewer Stephen Shaw about the impact of detention on the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people in his damning 2016 report, which recommended an urgent reduction in the use of detention. He is due to report on the Government’s progress in coming months.

Alternatives to detention are used effectively in many other countries, including Sweden – where intensive case management and engagement have led to low rates of detention, high rates of return and increased confidence in the system.

Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, said, “There’s no fairness, compassion or common sense in locking vulnerable people up and giving them no idea of when they might see their friends and family again.

“This is not about immigration. It is about how we treat fellow human beings. It cannot wait until Brexit is done and dusted – the Government must include a 28-day time limit on detention in its immigration bill. This suffering and injustice is happening every day in all our names. We must not walk by on the other side.”

Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead Catholic Bishop for migration and asylum, said, "It has been demonstrated time and time again that indefinite immigration detention not only violates people's basic human dignity, but that it serves no meaningful purpose.

“It is shameful that we lag behind every other EU country in abolishing this practice and I sincerely hope that the Government will commit to introducing a more humane system at the earliest opportunity.”

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, said, “Britain has a proud record of treating people with decency and fairness. Accordingly, we deserve an immigration and asylum policy that is humane and sensible.

“Locking up nearly 30,000 men, women and children indefinitely every year is unjust and counterproductive. I urge the Home Secretary to place a time limit on immigration detention.”

Sanjay Jagatia, Director of the Hindu Council UK, said: “The human consequences of locking people up and giving them no idea when or if they will be released are shocking and shaming. This is a black hole at the heart of British justice and we must stand together to end it.”

Dr Muhammad Adrees, Convenor of the Muslim Council of Scotland, said, "The UK operates one of the strictest detention regimes in Europe and it is time we look at alternatives away from arbitrary detention.

“Above all, we must continue to fulfil our moral duty to help those who are fleeing, in some cases, unspeakable horrors and atrocities by providing them safety, dignity and opportunity to come to terms with what they've been through and to rebuild their lives.”

Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK), said, “We are the only country in Europe to have indefinite immigration detention. It has become routine, is unacceptable and must come to an end.

“There is evidence this cruel and inhumane practice is causing harm and tearing families apart. In this country we have a proud tradition of upholding justice and need to treat people with respect and dignity by introducing a 28-day time limit.”

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Senior Rabbi, Liberal Judaism, said, “Indefinite detention causes huge harm – not only to vulnerable people who are incarcerated, but to their family, their children, their friends and their community. We cannot ignore this injustice perpetrated in our name.”

Derek McAuley, Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, said, “Detention without limit destroys lives and has no place in a society which recognises the worth and dignity of all people. Our immigration system should reflect the values of justice and humanity that we aspire to uphold – at the moment it does not”.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi, Masorti Judaism, said, “Indefinite detention violates the basic human right to justice, freedom of movement, and to know, if one is detained, why and for how long, and to have access to due process of law.

“Furthermore, detainees are often already traumatised by persecution and torture, may have no one to support them from ‘outside’, and may lack the language skills needed to understand the system. This leaves them lonely, frightened and bewildered.”

Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said, “At the Jesuit Refugee Service, we see again and again how immigration detention is life-destroying for those we accompany and serve. The UK is unique in Europe in having no limit on how long people can be held in immigration detention. The uncertainty caused by indefinite detention is a source of extreme stress and anxiety and contributes to a deterioration in physical and mental health, often compounding existing vulnerabilities.

“While some people are held in detention only for short periods of time, others can be detained for years before being released back into the community. The introduction of a 28-day time limit and the implementation of community-based alternatives to detention are now more urgent than ever.”

Full list of signatories:

  • Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral
  • Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead Catholic Bishop for migration and asylum
  • Muslim Council of Britain
  • Sanjay Jagatia, Director of the Hindu Council UK
  • Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism
  • Dr Muhammad Adrees, Convenor of the Muslim Council of Scotland
  • Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Senior Rabbi, Liberal Judaism
  • Derek McAuley, Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
  • Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi, Masorti Judaism
  • Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK)
  • Jas Singh, board member of The Sikh Network
  • Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service

* Liberty https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/

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