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Immigration: Detainee Support

Volume 804: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that no detainee of an immigration removal centre is released without support for (1) finding, and (2) funding, accommodation.

My Lords, if a detainee leaving detention has an outstanding asylum claim and would otherwise be destitute, they can apply for support. They will be provided with free furnished accommodation if granted. We cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance. When the person is at immediate risk of homelessness, we provide emergency accommodation while the application is assessed. Those who do not qualify for asylum support may be eligible under immigration bail provisions.

My Lords, first, the Minister will be aware of the report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons about the situation in immigration and detention centres during the pandemic, and the report that nine detainees from Harmondsworth were released into the streets without any support whatever. Secondly, the stabbing and shooting at the Park Inn Hotel in Glasgow cause deep concern. I am sure the Minister has heard many times before that, when somebody goes into provided accommodation, they lose their £35-a-week allowance. Can something be done about that? Does the Minister agree that it is high time we had a thorough overhaul of both detention and immigration procedures?

My Lords, this country is probably one of the most generous in the world when it comes to our treatment of asylum seekers. The noble Lord refers to the accommodation in Glasgow. It is three-star accommodation in a Radisson hotel, which I think is very generous by all measures. People would not be getting the £35 a week because everything is provided for them—bed, board, food and any other needs they have.

We all know that the noble Baroness is very compassionate and decent. But whatever her intentions, that is not the present reality in too many instances. If people are left destitute and desperate, this appears to them and those around them, and to the world, to be highly cynical and simply not compatible with civilised values. Can she redouble efforts to ensure that there is proper support and guidance for people who are being released into the community, given all the risks that will confront them?

My Lords, nobody should be left destitute in the current situation. Anyone who has applied for asylum, and even those who have been refused asylum, is being housed either in hotels or initial accommodation. If anyone is destitute, it is perhaps because they have breached the conditions which they are obliged to follow. In the main, we are a very humane country, with a humane Government who want to help these people. During the pandemic, everybody who has claimed asylum, and even those whose asylum claims have failed, is being looked after.

My Lords, immigration detention is an inhumane system, where people, most of whom will not ultimately be removed, can be locked up indefinitely without trial. Does the Minister agree that Covid-19 has put into the spotlight the arbitrary nature of the Home Office’s approach to detention and shown it to be both cruel and unnecessary? If she does not agree, can she say why immigration detainees have had a 95% success rate in bail applications since lockdown started?

I do not agree with the noble Baroness that detention is inhumane. Detention, in the main, is for the purposes of removal. Clearly, at this time, removal is far more difficult than it would usually be, and we are trying to grant bail where it is safe to do so.

My Lords, my question follows that of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. What has clearly been shown during the Covid period is that the number of immigration detainees has reduced significantly, by some 900 individuals since December of last year. Indeed, it is now one of the lowest numbers we have had since the previous decade. What lessons have been learned from this reduction in the number of immigration detainees? Can my noble friend assure the House that this positive move will continue as lockdown eases?

The noble Baroness points to our wish to avoid immigration detention at all costs. It is for the purposes of removal when the right of appeal has been exhausted and there is no other prospect of removing people. One lesson we have learned is how humane this country is. We have taken in people from Greece, which, I think, no other European country has been able to. I am very proud of that position.

My Lords, the near-prison environment of detention centres can lead to mental trauma and frequent self-harm. Does the Minister agree that we have an obligation to ensure that, on release, these vulnerable people are properly settled in society?

I agree with the noble Lord. Anyone in asylum accommodation has access to our advice, issue reporting and eligibility provider, Migrant Help. He is right that there will be vulnerable people in our detention estate.

I want to come back to a question raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Warsi. They made the point that there has been a big reduction in the number of people in removal centres because of the risks due to the pandemic. My question is a follow-up to those previous questions: do the Government now expect that, in the light of being able to remove so many people from immigration removal centres, there will in future be a significant reduction in the use of such detention? Presumably, we have shown that we can manage these cases in the community. Will there be a reduction in future?

My Lords, the Government do not want to put anyone in detention centres for the purposes of removal. Obviously, there are conditions around people being put on bail, including being asked to live at a specified address in the community. In the future, all these things will be based on a risk-management system.

My Lords, many non-UK detainees released from immigration removal centres are victims of trafficking. Despite this, they have been allowed simply to walk out of the centre without any basic resources and protection being put in place. According to every charity that works in this area, this is happening regularly—can the Minister explain why? Does she agree that this puts detainees at the mercy of their original traffickers?

I agree with the noble Baroness that human trafficking is an issue that often comes to light in the detention estate. As I said, a risk-based assessment is done when people leave detention, and people have access to support should they need it, if they are victims of trafficking. However, she is right: this is a real concern at the moment.

My Lords, the Minister said in reply to an earlier question that detention was for the purposes of removal. Could she then explain why in 2018—the latest year for which I have figures—56% of those detained were released back into the community? Is that not a sign that we are using detention far too much when we do not need to?

People are released from detention for a number of reasons, including appeals that succeed because late information is provided. However, the noble Lord makes a valid point that we should look back on this period of the pandemic to see whether some of the things that we are doing now could be used in future to manage people in the community.