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Independent Monitoring Boards National Annual Report for the Immigration Detention Estate 2018

The Immigration Detention Estate (IDE) has featured a great deal in the news with the recent Windrush scandal and detailed reports of the impact on people’s lives.  There has been a reported focus on the abuse and vulnerability of those detained. The BBC Panorama programme had exposed ill treatment in Brook House in 2017. The Home Office accepted and responded that the events were ‘shocking’.  There were two parliamentary committees. The follow up Assessment of government progress in implementing the report on the welfare in detention of vulnerable personA follow-up report to the Home Office by Stephen Shaw, July 2018 was published. 

IMB members regularly visit places of immigration detention:

“Members of an IMB are from the local community, appointed by the Home Secretary for immigration removal or holding facilities and by the Secretary of State for Justice for prisons; each IMB has a duty to satisfy itself as to the humane and just treatment of those detained or held in custody”.

The most recent report was published in October 2019.  

The foreword by Dame Anne Owers, National Chair, Independent Monitoring Boards and Jane Leech IMB Management Board, IDE lead concludes:

“IMBs reported a shift in the IDE during 2018: the numbers detained reduced, and one centre closed permanently; there were improvements in decency and standards of cleanliness and accommodation; and fewer detainees were held for the excessively long periods that have been a matter of huge concern. Despite this, IMBs drew attention in their annual reports to a number of policies and practices that cause concern: including the overarching inhumanity caused by the absence of a legal time limit; the high proportion who were released from IRCs rather than being removed; the detention of vulnerable adults, some with mental health concerns; violence and drug use in some of the male centres; and the inappropriate use of restraint by escorts”.

Detention Concerns 

IMB monitors have regularly given feedback on the following, as being serious areas of concern:

  • Detention without limits can cause ‘anxiety and stress’;
  • There are  long periods in detention, mainly for those awaiting deportation; 
  • Reported ‘high proportions’ of those released rather than removed;
  • Vulnerability of those in detention, particularly with those who suffer with their mental health;
  • Detainees exhibiting ‘other serious indicators of vulnerability’;
  • Standards of accommodation and ‘unacceptable living conditions’;
  • Drugs and use of violence;
  • Variability in the in healthcare provision across the estate;
  • High levels of handcuffing for detainees on external visits;
  • Difficulties experienced by detainees who ‘spoke little or no English, particularly during their first days in detention’; and
  • No access to ‘social media or internet-based video-calling facilities’ and phone calls, necessary to speak to legal representatives can be expensive.

Short Term Holding and Removal

In analysing the Gatwick pre-departure accommodation, the report reads: 

The pre-departure unit adjacent to Tinsley House can accommodate up to two families and is intended as a last resort to enforce removal of families after all other options have failed. In 2018, 16 families were held there, consisting of 26 adults and 36 children. Of these, only two families were removed from the UK”.

It was concluded that short term holding facilities were only suitable for that.  The report notes:

“Given the type of facilities being monitored, as described above, all STHF boards were concerned that stays in holding rooms should be as short as possible”. 

The Charter flight monitoring team notes that there were  ‘mainly respectful and courteous personal interactions between escorts and detainees’ but there were concerns about other facilities and ‘practices that are demeaning’.

Detention – Mental Health

Mental Health remains a constant source of concern:

“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”. 

The report records and relies on the fact that at Heathrow IRC, 13 men were sectioned during 2018, at Yarl’s Wood IRC, five women during 2018 and at Brook House IRC seven detainees were section in 2018.  

We will watch with interest developments in the area of detention and time limits that could be imposed.

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