Despite an unsuccessful legal challenge from Detention Action seeking the release of all immigration detainees at the High Court in March (see 5 April update), more than 700 detainees were released between 16 March and 21 April as the government responded to concerns about the spread of Covid-19 within immigration detention facilities. The organisation has begun a petition requesting the release of all remaining immigration detainees. Official figures recorded 1,225 people in detention centres on 1 January and 368 at the latest count, which amounts to a reduction of almost three-quarters. According to detainees, there are 13 women left at the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal in Bedfordshire and the Tinsley House and Dungavel centres are thought to be nearly empty. Also, about 50 people are believed to have been deported during the crisis.
Detention Action told the BBC (7 May) that the litigation had “forced major, rapid concessions from the government, including the release of 350 detainees in one week and a halt on new detentions of people facing removal to 49 countries.”
Another NGO, Movement for Justice, commented: “Now we also know the centres can be easily emptied and people can manage their cases in the community.”
However, the Home Office has pushed back on this idea, arguing that “the vast majority of those in detention, at this time, are foreign national offenders. It is only right that we continue to protect the public from dangerous criminals.”
Immigration detainees have reportedly been unable to access coronavirus tests despite living in shared accommodation centres where there have been confirmed cases of the virus. The managing Director of Mitie, a private firm contracted by the Home Office to run Harmondsworth and Colnbrook removal centres, told the Home Affairs Select Committee on 7 May 2020 that while all staff in the centre were able to access tests, there was at present “no particular policy” around testing for detainees. He added that Mitie had “recently written to the Home Office asking that testing becomes available as a matter of routine for detainees.”
In English and Welsh prisons, it is estimated that around 1,800 prisoners could be infected with Covid-19, in addition to the 304 already confirmed cases, according to Public Health England (PHE). PHE also added that to avoid a further spread of the disease, protective measures within penitentiaries would have to be maintained until the end of the financial year (April 2021). With these measures in place, PHE has estimated that there will be around 2,800 infections and 100 deaths.
- J. Ironmonger, “Coronavirus: UK Detention Centres ‘Emptied in Weeks’,” BBC, 7 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-52560093
- Detention Action, “Emergency Petition: Protect People in Immigration Detention from Covid-19,” accessed on 11 May 2020, https://detentionaction.e-activist.com/page/57801/petition/1
- D. Taylor, “Home Office Accused of Pressuring Judiciary over Immigration Decisions,” The Guardian, 6 May 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/may/06/home-office-accused-of-pressuring-judiciary-over-immigration-decisions
- M. Bulman, “Coronavirus: Asylum Seekers and Detainees Unable to get Tests Despite Confirmed Cases in Living Facilities,” The Independent, 8 May 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-asylum-seekers-immigration-detention-testing-home-office-a9504196.html
- D. Shaw, “Coronavirus: More than 2,000 Prisoners may have been Infected, Says PHE,” BBC, 28 April 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-52449920
- Protesters Outside Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre Calling for its Immediate Closure in June 2015, (“Coronavirus: UK Detention Centres ‘Emptied in Weeks’,” BBC, 7 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-52560093)