Detention is used as an administrative tool by the government – a convenience without proper consideration of less harmful alternatives, and certainly without an acknowledgement of the adverse impact that detention will have on a person’s mental health or their family. In the last year, 27,819 people were sent into immigration detention. Over half of them were released from detention back into the community – which meant that their detention has not served its stated purpose of being for removal or deportation.
The figures are staggering, the cost is staggering. The Home Office states that it costs around £86 per day to keep an individual in detention. That means the cost of detaining people last year alone was over £92 million. This doesn’t include the administrative costs, costs of opposing bail and other legal costs. It also doesn’t include the costs when the Home Office gets it wrong. In the last 3 years, the Home Office paid out around £4 million per year in compensation for unlawful detention. What these facts and figures don’t show is the human cost to each of the 27,819 individuals in the last year and the countless number of detainees before them.
The days, weeks, months and even years that individuals spend in detention are not just numbers – this is time that people will never get back. Missed birthdays, missed anniversaries, missed births, missed time with family, missed hellos and missed goodbyes. Each of these individuals has families and friends. The devastating effect of immigration detention goes far beyond numbers that we can picture in our heads; the lasting effects, the psychological strain. It has tragically even cost many their lives. There have been ten heart-breaking deaths in detention centres in the last year. Ten deaths that could have been prevented.
Britain is the only country in the EU without a statutory time limit for immigration detention and has been criticised by the UN Human Rights Council for this. This means that without a time limit, detainees do not know how long they might be detained for. In 2015, the APPG Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom heard from an individual who had served a prison sentence for working illegally before being held in detention who poignantly said, “in prison, you count your days down but in detention you count your days up.”
Take one of our former clients, Michael*. Abused and tortured in his home country, from which he fled to a neighbouring country after being forced to join the army, he arrived in the UK initially on a student visa to complete his studies. He has now lived in the UK for 12 years – he met and fell in love with a woman, with whom he has a British child. After serving an 18 month sentence for working without permission he was transferred to an immigration detention centre even though he could not be removed. Despite having been tortured before coming to the UK, Michael had this to say about detention here:
“Detention is by far the worst place and experience I have gone through in my life. For someone like me who endured torture, harm, torment and abuse in my home country. The endless trauma and flashbacks which followed me across the oceans was relived in detention and made my conditions rather worse.“
Michael suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression prior to being detained. The government’s own ‘adults at risk’ guidance recognises that vulnerable individuals may be at increased risk of harm from detention. As a result the guidance states that vulnerable individuals (‘adults at risk’) should not normally be detained and can only be detained when immigration factors outweigh their vulnerability. Michael, was assessed as a Level 3 adult as risk which, under the guidance states that ‘detention is likely to lead to a risk of significant harm to the individual if detained for the period identified as necessary to effect removal’. Yet, Michael continued to be detained.
“Detention made me suicidal and also made me physically attempt to end my life four times because I couldn't see past those four walls. There is nothing to stimulate your brain positively and there isn't any form of Nirvana for those of us who were there.”
Michael’s story has features that are common to many of the people that BID encounters. Many of the people detained by the government moved to the UK when they were children and have no connections in the country of their birth. Many of them have families in the UK – British partners and British children. Last year, we helped reunite 140 families who had been torn apart by immigration detention by providing vital legal advice to parents in detention, supporting them to apply for bail and to challenge their deportation.
No child should have to live through the trauma of being forcibly separated from their parent by the government.
“As for my family, they have been emotionally traumatised, mentally drenched from not knowing if I am coming or going. Whilst I was in detention, my son whose just 3 months short of 4 became agitated, aggressive and not listening in nursery.
My partner now thinks everyone is against us and we have to run away, my son says he has bad dreams about daddy and hearing all these stories just made me emotional. Even worse, my partner and son became homeless because I was in detention and she had no funds for childcare and could not work full time and support our child. Detention took everything away from us, happiness, shelter, warmth and even sometimes food. All we can do now is try to get better.
My son feels like I left him, till date when he comes home from nursery and doesn't see me he asks his mum “where's daddy?”... almost with fear in his heart that I may have disappeared again.
I look at him and he looks at me as if to say where have you been daddy and he shows me all his toys from all those months. I don't know what goes on in his mind but I can tell even he felt the effects of my absence negatively. Now I am out, I aim and hope to put it right by spending every moment with him and just learning to be a father and great confidant to my son again.”
BID was contacted by Michael and worked on his case to secure his release.
“BID helped me a huge deal. In fact, it’s as simple as I need to say. BID was introduced to me in June 2017 by an officer who read my case and said she would try to help. From then onwards I started liaising with BID and I can say BID and Medical Justice have been ever present on my struggles.”
Michael was refused bail on two separate occasions, but was finally released on Temporary Admission following an application from BID.
“BID dedicated a barrister on my behalf twice in court and I absolutely appreciated that effort… Although we didn't prevail on that bail hearing, I was grateful to have BID at least try to help and for that I will never forget or take for granted the immense input I had from BID. There are no amount of thank yous that would be enough!”
Michael spoke about his experiences after his release and his thoughts about immigration detention.
“I am grateful to be out but I am now struggling with normality, thankfully my doctor is being very helpful.
My experience in detention was utterly insane. I became suicidal…I watched human beings be treated worse than animals would be in England, yet it was legal and allowed to happen… There must be better ways to treat humans in the 21st century than that.
The long lasting effect of detention would be my increased depression, the fact that I now have another huge traumatic experience to add to my already traumatised childhood and life. My PTSD is still very much a disruptive factor of my life. I am trying to tell my brain that it’s okay I can get help now but even the closing of doors freak me out or the sound of keys make me aware. I'm always thinking something bad is going to happen, I think and remember my days there every day. I still have memory lapses and struggle to deal with my emotion when I think of how long I was detained for. Detention destroyed my life, I lost any hope, I never imagined a future. Detention is hell on earth!
My life today is okay. It could be better but I know it’s a gradual process. I saw my doctor and he explained to me that it would take quite a bit of time before I could even imagine to behave or act normal again because I had just been subdued to such practices namely detention…My motto now lies with the remits of where there is life there is hope. I am going to see the mental health team soon.
Detention is a place most people don't even know exists let alone know where it is, the Home Office cleverly hide them in places where no questions can be asked from the general public or for people to see it and think hang on what's there. BID defies every doubt and reaches to people whom are most vulnerable in more cases than none. I know people who have gone through BID and have had success, I am one and I know a lot more and I think your work is underrated."
*Please note the name of our client has been changed to protect their identity.