Today, 10th September 2015, Parliament sat down to debate detention for asylum seekers and refugees.
Impassioned pleas were made by over 25 MPs, from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party. All MPs who spoke commended the report and called for radical change to the detention system. There was unanimous support for the recommendation of a 28 day time limit, and particular speeches condemning the detention of women who have faced rape, sexual abuse or who are pregnant.
Many commented how detention was worse than prison, because in prisons you count down the time to your freedom, whereas when detained you can only count up how many days you have been deprived of liberty. In addition, the lack of legal representation and access to justice means that few asylum seekers are able to challenge their detention whilst detained. This leads to some detention lengths topping three years. Further the majority of detainees were still granted asylum in Britain, bringing into question the point of their detention in the first place.
Harrowing statistics and stories we’re also raised by the MPs. Seema Malhorta MP stated that on arrival at Yarl’s Wood, 50% of women reported feeling suicidal. Paula Sherriff MP reported that 40% of detained women self-harmed, and 20% attempted suicide. Jess Phillips MP spoke of her constituent, a queer woman from Nigeria, who was trafficked to Britain as a sex worker but didn’t qualify for protection as she knew the man who trafficked her to the nation. Others reported parents separated from children, wives from husbands, and children from the nation they were raised in once they turned 18.
MPs also highlighted that the government has paid out £15 Million to refugees who have successfully won cases that stated their detention was unlawful. The great cost to the government of breaking the law should be clear to them.
With the widespread support from MPs, activists, charities and former detainees, the home office minister, James Brokenshire MP, stated that “there is more we can do” on the topic on detention. He has commended the report and will make sure that the casework of asylum seekers and detainees is looked at. However, despite the fact that all MPs said that the 28 day detention time limit is the most significant step the government can take, he denied that the government currently is indefinitely detaining people and called for a reasonable timeframe for different people facing different circumstances. This is wholly disappointing, and ensures that Britain will continue to be the only EU nation without a time limit on detention.
The cross-party support for a time limit, and the support for liberty, human rights and the wellbeing of the men, women and children does mean that there is still, as MP Kate Osamor put it “a conscience of the nation” in our back-bench MPs. Those with detention centres in their constituencies continue to be advocates for change in the system, which many including conservative MP Richard Fuller described as “costly, ineffective and unjust”.