The figures published yesterday by the NGO No-Deportation on suicide attempts and deaths in immigration detention has highlighted once again the desperate need for a review of the way that we manage vulnerable immigration detainees.
The number of suicide attempts in immigration detention has increased by 11% since last year, with as many as 393 recorded attempts across the whole detention estate and almost one in 10 of those entering detention being placed on suicide watch.
There have been 13 deaths in detention over the past five years, the last one just over a month ago. Amir Siman-Tov, a national of Morocco in his 30s, died in Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre in February while he was on suicide watch and under the supervision of the healthcare ward because of recognised mental health issues.
Siman-Tov should have probably never been detained in the first place. The Home Office policy on detention itself specifies that ‘those suffering from serious mental illness which cannot be satisfactorily managed within detention’ should only be detained in very exceptional circumstances and if already in detention, should be released. However, in the first three quarters of 2015, just 18.8% of the 1,484 detainees whose health was assessed to be ‘likely to be injuriously affected by detention’ were released from detention.
Siman-Tov’s death was a clear sign that his condition was not satisfactorily managed in detention and that being locked up without a time limit in questionable conditions contributes to the deterioration of people’s mental state and the amplification of existing traumas.
None of this comes as a surprise to those who work closely with immigration detainees and witness the horror of what goes on inside Immigration Removal Centres all over the country. But the idea that indefinite detention is inhumane and must be abolished has recently gained consensus in the House of Lords, where last month the Government was defeated by 187 votes to 170 on an amendment to the Immigration Bill to bring judicial oversight into the practice of detention.
Although not directly imposing a time limit to detention and not applicable to all detainees, the amendment allows judges to periodically review the legality of a person’s detention, usually every 28 days, and decide whether there are exceptional circumstances to authorise a further period of detention. It will be for the Home Office to demonstrate that those exceptional circumstances apply in each individual case.
With 38% of people being detained for more than the customary 28 days, this amendment seems to be a step – albeit small – in the right direction and was generally welcomed by charities and campaigning groups that work to put an end to indefinite detention.
Caterina is a Solicitor at Wilson Solicitors LLP. She specialises in immigration, asylum and human rights law. She volunteers for the Liberty Advice Line.