In Britain, asylum seekers can be held indefinitely in detention centres. This means that people, who have often escaped unthinkable situations to seek refuge in the UK, will not know when they will walk free once again.
After being traumatised by war, imprisonment, religious persecution, torture, rape and sexual abuse, these people are trapped once again in a country that should be protecting and welcoming them. The conditions in which they are held are often deplorable.
Harmondsworth detention centre is the largest in Europe with a capacity of 600. In April 2015 over 200 detainees went on hunger strike due to the overcrowded, prison-like conditions. The hunger strike spread to detention centres across the country, with people becoming sick of being treated like criminals for trying to survive by coming to Britain.
Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, a women-only detention centre with a capacity of around 350, has been the site of frequent protests by the asylum-seeking residents, who have reported sexual assault, misconduct and rape by the predominantly male staffers at the centre.
The fact that Britain is the only nation in the EU without a time limit on detention should be a point of national shame. People are often held for years at a time whilst their cases are lost to bureaucracy that eclipses the person behind the papers. The government has made few positive changes in its time, preferring to outsource the running of the centres to those who can do it for the lowest cost. Serco, the operator of Yarl’s Wood, made £962 Million from the UK Government in 2014 according to their annual report. How much of this revenue came from detaining those in desperate need of asylum is unknown, as is the emotional cost to each individual who was detained for far longer than necessary.
There has been public outcry and protest over the treatment of those in detention centres. The people recognise that Britain should be a home for those who need refuge, not a nation that traumatises them.
There has also been considerable dissatisfaction at the cost of the detention centres and programmes. Many argue that detention is not an efficient way to deal with refugees, and the cost to the tax payer of having such long and unnecessary detention periods is extortionate.
These worries, of rights, of welfare, of cost and of humanity are finally having a chance to be discussed in government on the 10th of September. The independent report into detention commissioned by the government and published in March this year has called for a 28 day time limit on detention for asylum seekers. As people across the political spectrum sit in the chamber of the House of Commons on the 10th, they will debate this report and the changes that our country needs to make.
This is going to be a vital debate that the nation needs to be aware of. If we can urge our MPs to attend, and ask them to get the government to finally put a time limit on detention, we can make a real change to the lives of Asylum Seekers in Britain.
It’s time to unlock the debate, and it’s time to put a time limit on detention. Join René Cassin and contribute to #unlockthedebate to pressure our government to put a time limit on asylum detention.
Miriam Steiner, Intern