Hundreds of people marched through Bristol on Saturday to demand an end to immigration detention.
Almost 30,000 immigrants and asylum seekers are held in detention centres every year. Conditions inside are prison-like, with inmates kept behind bars in units (including former high-security prisons) ringed by barbed wire and patrolled by guards.
Detainees have committed no crimes – but unlike prisoners, they often have no idea about when they can expect to be released. That’s because the UK is the only country in Europe not to have a time limit on how long immigrants and asylum seekers can be detained.
Tonight at Full Council councillors called on the Government to end this cruel system. A motion, passed by 48 votes in favour with 11 votes against, called for the Government to change the law to introduce more humane alternative and re-stated Bristol’s commitment as a City of Sanctuary and signatory to the Dignity not Destitution Pledge.
Councillors spoke powerfully about the brutality of the current system.
In some cases, Home Office officials arrive at asylum seekers’ homes in the middle of the night, force them into cars and transport them to other parts of the country. They can be placed many miles from loved ones – separated from friends and family just at the time they need them most.
The toll this takes on detainees was spelled out by an All Party Inquiry into Immigration Detention which found that the lack of a time limit had “a considerable mental health cost…detainees are left counting the days they have been in detention, not knowing if tomorrow their detention will continue, if they will be deported or if they will be released.”
The report also found a lack of adequate healthcare in centres, poor access to legal representation and particularly poor conditions for women, who report a lack of privacy and feeling intimidated by male staff.
There is not just a strong moral case for overhauling immigration detention – there is a financial one too. As the These Walls Must Fall campaign, who organised Saturday’s march, point out, the £125m spent every year on keeping open the UK’s eleven detention centres is both a terrible waste of money, and a waste of lives.
The motion passed tonight calls on the Government to enact in full the recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry. We called on Ministers to change the law so that:
- There would be a time limit of 28 days on the length of time anyone can be held
- There would be a presumption in favour of community-based resolutions and against detention
- Decisions to detain should be for the shortest possible time
- The Government would introduce a much wider range of alternatives to detention
On the streets and in the council chamber this week, Bristol has spoken out in favour of a fairer, more humane system of immigration detention. We hope other cities and councils will follow our lead and help put pressure on the Government to recognise that the current system must be overhauled.