The UK is the only country in Europe without a time-limit on detention. Migrants can be imprisoned indefinitely, solely for bureaucratic convenience, often for many months and even many years.
Britain has a long tradition of legal protection for civil liberties. This tradition is undermined every day that migrants are detained without time limit. Many people experience long-term damage to their physical and mental health. Their families also experience the distress of separation. Detention without time limit damages the UK’s international reputation for defending human rights.
Souleymane, who has experienced the trauma of indefinite detention, has said that:
In prison, you count the days down [till your release]. In detention, you count the days up.
As Detention Action’s recent report on the State of Detention in the UK shows, the statistics on indefinite detention are disturbing and yet even they do not paint the full picture:
In 2013, 904 migrants left detention after spending more than six months locked up; 237 more were still in detention at the end of the year, suggesting that 1,141 people went past six months in detention during the year. However, these statistics are misleading, as they arbitrarily exclude migrants whom the Home Office chooses to detain in prison, although their legal status is no different.
Migrants in prison tend to be detained for the longest periods; 850 were detained there at the end of 2013.
A movement to end this injustice
As the lively #Time4aTimeLimit campaign strategy day last week showed, there is a groundswell of opinion against indefinite detention. Many different diverse groups and individuals came together to share what they have been doing to press for this much-needed and overdue change, and we were all energised by the shared commitment and belief that change will come.
You can get a sense of this energy and positivity from the Storify of the day’s tweets, compiled by the Jewish human rights organisation Rene Cassin.
Time-limit as a first step
There is real momentum behind the #Time4aTimeLimit campaign – and signs of movement from both politicians and civil society. Right to Remain is just one of the thirty or so members of the Detention Forum fighting for this change, and we are joined by City of Sanctuary, Citizens UK and many more.
A time-limit on detention makes sense for everyone. Detention doesn’t work – and the Home Office’s increased use of detention despite a decline in the number of forced removals (their justification for depriving migrants of their liberty) demonstrates stubbornness and fear in the face of the facts. We need to embolden decision-makers and policy-makers to make this change – show them that there are many of us out there, demanding this change.
Once a time-limit is agreed – and with the Detention Forum we are calling for a time-limit of 28 days – it will be easy to demonstrate that the alternatives to detention work. Less people will be detained, detention centres will be closed, and the case for ending all detention can be very strongly made.
- Keep up-to-date with the campaign by looking for #Time4aTimeLimit on Twitter (you do not need to have a Twitter account to see tweets). You can also see lots of the #Time4aTimeLimit messages on the Detention Forum website.
- Take a selfie with the #Time4aTimeLimit campaign sign and tweet it with the hashtag, or email it to email@example.com if you are not on Twitter!
- Spread the word – talk to your friends, family, communities and get them to join this vital campaign
- Speak to your MPs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and urge them to call for a time-limit on detention.