An open letter to General Election candidates about inhumane migrant detention

from Freed Voices

We are Freed Voices, a group of experts-by-experience committed to speaking out about the realities of immigration detention in the UK and calling for reform.

At a recent meeting of our group, we added up the number of years we spent between us in immigration detention in this country. With just a handful of us in the room, the total was more than 13 years. If all our members had been there, it would have been more than 25 years.

Many of us suffered greatly during our detention. We suffered serious mental health problems. We saw and experienced suicide attempts and self-harm. We felt the immensely detrimental impact of indefinite detention on our minds and bodies. Our members are still suffering from the trauma of detention, even many years later. One of our members said recently, “you leave detention, but detention does not leave you.”

With the General Election fast approaching, our message to you is simple – the UK’s system of indefinite immigration detention is a human rights scandal and it must end.

Immigration has been a big issue in this election, but we will never have a system that we can call fair or humane until we end the controversial practice of indefinite detention. 

In divided times, not many issues bring MPs from across Parliament together – but immigration detention does. This year, MPs from all the main parties have proposed a sensible and workable package of reforms.

They say that we should have general criteria for detention set down in law to ensure that it will be used only when necessary. We should bring decisions to detain out from behind the closed doors of the Home Office and into the light of judicial oversight. And we should end the controversial practice of indefinite detention with an absolute time limit of 28 days.

These reforms proposed are sensible – they are based on the norms of this country. For too long, immigration detention has sat outside the basic principles of British justice, like a cruel anomaly. In the new Parliament, with your support, we hope that these proposals will be enacted.  

We would like to remind you of who we are, because this often gets lost in debates around immigration.

Those held in the UK’s immigration detention centres have come to the UK for many different reasons. Some for work or study or family. Some because we fled our countries of origin due to violence, torture, persecution or war. Some because we wanted to make the UK our home. Many of us have been here for a long time, since childhood even. We were brought over by our parents through no fault of our own to the only place we have ever called home. Some are victims of the Windrush scandal and entitled to be British citizens.

That is a long way of saying that we are human beings. Whichever particular immigration system you favour, you must agree that the people within that system should be treated fairly and humanely. The current system is neither. Nor is it effective.

It does not need to be this way.

The independent evidence that our system is failing is overwhelming and consequently a consensus is emerging around the urgent need for reform. In its report this year, the Home Affairs Select Committee “found serious problems with almost every element of the immigration detention system.”

Those on the side of reform to this broken system include Parliamentary committees, HM Inspector of Prisons, the Independent Monitoring Board, MPs from all the main political parties, and organisations from across civil society.

At that recent meeting of Freed Voices we calculated that the British taxpayer has forked out nearly £500,000 for the government to keep just a few of our members locked up for those 13 years. But we were able to meet in London because the Home Office eventually released us all – our detention was expensive, inhumane and totally pointless.

Freed Voices welcomes the interest of all candidates in this important and pressing issue, irrespective of party, politics or existing views on immigration detention. 

Thank you for putting yourself forward to serve your constituency. We urge you to commit to reforming out broken detention system and to putting an end to indefinite immigration detention once and for all.

Thank you,

Freed Voices

You can find more information on immigration detention and the time limit in this briefing for MPs.