Home Office policy vs Home Office practice – Freed Voices on the #DetentionDebate

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Today’s Westminster Hall debate on the detention of vulnerable people seeks to address the Government’s (distinct lack of) progress on the promises it made for aggressive detention reform in the wake of last year’s Shaw Review recommendations. More specifically, it is an opportunity for MPs to challenge the Government’s new Adult at Risk policy, which seeks to ‘safeguard the most vulnerable’, with a ‘clear presumption that people who are at risk should not be detained’. One year on from announcing this policy, we continue to see vulnerable people held in detention on a daily basis.

With this in mind, we asked three members of the Freed Voices group their thoughts on today’s debate, the Adults at Risk policy, and vulnerability in detention more generally. 

MISHKA

“I was detained with my twin brother. It was a very difficult for us. We went in ok and we came out broken. The last three days before my brother was removed he tried to commit suicide two times. The first time, there was blood everywhere. The officers and nurses were so annoyed. They are thinking he is just trying to escape from removal. The nurse put a plaster on his wrists and took him to segregation. There he ripped a piece of metal off the wall to cut himself again. He was very, very vulnerable by the end. He was not the only one. There were many other people in bad states – mental and physical. There is more than one suicide attempt a day in detention now. All I know is that when suicide becomes normal – anywhere, ever – something has gone very, very wrong.

However vulnerable you are the relationship between Home Office and healthcare means you cannot be treated fairly. There is a conflict of interest and this makes safeguards like Rule 35s…empty. So am I surprised there has been no drop in vulnerable people detained since this [Adults at Risk] policy? I cannot say I am, no. It is just another example of the difference between Home Office policy and Home Office practice. I am sad to say it but this is another thing becoming normal for migrants in the UK.”

JOSE

“I saw so many people in detention I never expected to see there: under-age guys; really old people; people like me, with mobility problems; people in wheelchairs who were dependent on strangers to wash them and take them to the toilet; guys completely isolated by their lack of language; survivors of real, extreme trauma. I shared a room with a guy from Eritrea who was clearly a survivor of torture. When he changed his shirt you could see the cuts all over his back, everywhere. It took some time before he spoke to me about his experiences. He should never have been in detention, never. When I left he was still in there.

Detention destroys your trust in the system in such a way that I’m sorry, no, it doesn’t surprise me at all that vulnerable people are still being detained. Detention is such a difficult space to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s weird…somehow there the extremely abnormal can become your regular everyday. And that fucks with your head. Even now it fucks with my head…

This government [well, not this one] was chosen by the people. The public voted for this party. The responsibility for this human disgrace must be shared. It is not just the government to blame. The people themselves need to remember their own role in a parliamentary democracy. They have to remind the MPs in this debate that they are representing them and their values.”

KASONGA

“You cannot seriously implement something like this Adults at Risk Policy without addressing the culture of disbelief at the heart of the Home Office. That is why we are still seeing vulnerable people in detention – because the Home Office are the ones doing the ‘balancing’, not some independent body.

(How can you even measure someone’s experience of torture or rape against ‘immigration factors’? They are completely different units of measurement! In fact, what even are the units of measurement?!)

Eitherway, the scales are loaded in the usual way – for the Home Office and against the migrant.

There is also no proper assessment of how this policy is operating. Who’s overlooking it? Who’s accountable when the detention of someone vulnerable destroys their mental health? Or when it kills? Without scrutiny, the Home Office have a carte-blanche to do what they want. And we know they will use it…

The real point is that none of these people, whatever their level of vulnerability (and everyone is vulnerable in detention by the way), should be locked up indefinitely. They should be in the community like Shaw himself recommended. First things first: the Home Office should read their own report.”