Immigration Detainees Coronavirus

Immigration Detainees Should Be Released Due to Coronavirus Risk

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Due to fears of a Coronavirus outbreak inside Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), several campaigners have joined together to demand the release of all detainees.

The demands have been made in an open letter addressed to the Home Secretary, in which ten migrants’ rights organisations vocalise their support for the immediate release of detainees in the interests of public health.   

The letter has received the support of Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the Shadow Immigration Minister, who has stated that detainees should instead be monitored via electronic tagging and bail conditions.  

The virus would be likely to spread rapidly inside IRCs due to detainees living in close proximity to each other.

Ribeiro-Addy has raised these concerns, stating that:

‘We already know prisons of all kinds are a very high-risk area for transmission with people kept in close proximity’.

There are currently seven IRCs across the country that collectively hold between 1,500 and 2,000 individuals. It is likely that some detainees have pre-existing medical conditions that leave them particularly vulnerable to Coronavirus. With this in mind, the necessary steps must be taken to prevent the disease from being transmitted amongst the detainee population. 

The Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre is situated close to Heathrow Airport. [Image: Global Detention Project]

Further to this, the sanitary conditions and provision of healthcare inside IRCs is sub-standard. This makes all detainees highly susceptible to infection, regardless of their medical history.

The virus would be likely to spread rapidly inside IRCs due to detainees living in close proximity to each other.

Ribeiro-Addy points out that whilst there are currently no confirmed cases of Covid-19 inside detention centres, the often ‘asymptomatic nature of the disease’ and absence of community testing means that it easily goes undetected.

With the government putting together plans to prevent disorder within the UK prison system, it is hugely important that the requisite level of attention is also given to those in immigration detention.

Prison riots in Italy have prompted the government to carefully consider how to handle the quarantining of UK prisoners. The current strategy dictates that all prisoners who have had contact with a known Coronavirus patient should be isolated in single accommodation.

In order to mitigate disruption, the government states that quarantined prisoners should be communicated with regularly, allowed to contact their families and provided with books and magazines to combat feelings of isolation. Those working in the prison system have been offered bonuses to cover staff shortages inside IRCs.

Two detainees inside Colnbrook IRC have been tested, but both tests came back negative. [Image: IndyMedia]

Commenting on these plans, the Shadow Immigration Minister said:

‘As the government draws up its emergency plans for prisons, they must do the right thing and put human life before their commitment to arbitrary net migration targets.’

With the government putting together plans to prevent disorder within the UK prison system, it is hugely important that the requisite level of attention is also given to those in immigration detention.

As it stands, at least two detainees at the Colnbrook IRC have been tested for Covid-19. The two individuals, one of whom is from Iraq and the other Nigeria, have indicated that seven more detainees have been quarantined and tested. In addition, both individuals raised concerns about the risk of infection, stating that officers move freely between quarantined areas and other parts of the centre.

They also stated that they were only quarantined five days after presenting symptoms, and were initially just told to ‘drink water’. Their cell mates were not isolated at any point despite living in close proximity to them.

Alongside the open letter, a legal challenge is being readied that will call for the Home Office to stop all new detentions, suspend a number of deportations and release all detainees who would be at particular risk of death were they to become infected.

Detention Action is the organisation behind the legal challenge. It believes that, were a Coronavirus outbreak to occur inside an immigration removal centre, the current detention policy would put the wider population at risk.

Commenting on this situation, Detention Action’s director Bella Sankey said:

‘The Home Office’s detention centres warehouse hundreds in close proximity including those with physical vulnerabilities that put them at high risk should they contract coronavirus. As the UK braces itself for this pandemic and as borders close, we are demanding the Home Office take swift and bold action to release those detained and prevent a human catastrophe.’

In response to the demands, a Home Office spokesperson had this to say:

‘The health of people in these centres is of the utmost importance and we have robust contingency plans and are following all Public Health England guidance.

We remain committed to removing foreign national offenders or those who violate our immigration rules.’

[Header Image: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images]

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