Mishka is a member of the Freed Voices - a group of experts-by-experience calling for immigration detention reform. Mishka writes under a pseudonym.
I invite all fellow advocates and campaigners to maintain focus and energy to use this Shaw Review 2 in an effective manner in the fight against indefinite detention and to call for radical detention reform.
Stephen Shaw’s highly anticipated second review into immigration detention was finally released last week. As someone who has experienced UK immigration detention first hand, I believe that this report fails to reflect the full damage of the UK’s current immigration detention state. Nevertheless, the report’s 44 recommendations could provide an opportunity for essential reform.
Notably, a time limit on detention – one of the most important reforms – is not something that Stephen Shaw has directly considered. He did find the length of time some people spend in detention to be ‘deeply troubling’, particularly the increased number of people who have been in detention for 6 months and the 34 people who had been detained for 12 months or more. These cases are, of course, directly linked to the lack of a time limit.
I do not agree with Shaw that the case for a time limit has been ‘articulated more as a slogan than as a fully developed policy proposal’. A time limit is something that has been endorsed by many reputable organisations, including the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Bar Council, and this is supported by credible evidence.
However, Shaw’s remark should serve as a reminder that effective detention campaigning is not merely about sentimental hashtags, or being animated about particular isolated incidents without focusing on the wider issue. We must continue to follow solution-based advocacy, with meaningful policy proposals aimed at the changes we expect from the government.
On a positive note, there is a widespread network of campaigners for detention reform - consisting of many different communities, reputed human rights organisations, MPs from all major political parties, and finally, experts-by-experience inside and outside detention - all working together. I believe we will be able to work hard to make sure that a specific time limit is something that would be considered as one of the most important detention reforms.
Shaw has also raised concerns about the number of self-inflicted deaths and suicide attempts, which he has attempted to address with a safer detention strategy. However, people who have experienced detention know that if you lock people up with no time limit, solely for the administrative convenience of the state, with restricted access to justice, then you are going to push people over the edge. This is one reason why I do not particularly believe that safer detention strategies and better facilities, including improved healthcare, are sufficient. Detention itself will always cause these problems.
Nevertheless, as someone who prefers to be pragmatic and work within the current political landscape, I do not think that a complete abolition of the detention estate is particularly within reach. For that reason, improved healthcare including mental health and safer detention strategies are essential for the time being; as long as we keep in mind that this is not the end goal.
The level of focus in this report on the ineffective Rule 35 regime and the Adults at Risk policy is also welcome. These policies were implemented with the stated aim of keeping vulnerable people out of detention, but we regularly see victims of torture, human trafficking, and sexual violence being indefinitely detained. I hope the Home Office urgently considers Shaw’s recommendations on this issue, in consultation both with independent charities specialising in this area and the people who are directly affected by these ineffective policies.
In the meantime, it was interesting to see the Home Secretary Sajid Javid respond to the review with a number of promising announcements. Even though Stephen Shaw had not directly considered a time limit on detention, the Home Secretary promised an internal policy review to look into the issue, which was refreshing to see.
He also announced the piloting of an alternative to detention scheme for vulnerable women currently held in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. I hope this trial will be expanded rapidly and implemented as part of a wider presumption against detention. This has to be done with the clear objective of progressively eliminating the UK’s detention state. A successful model of alternatives to detention should have an element of proper case management within the community, and I hope the Home Office consults civil society, NGOs and migrants while doing so.
Stephen Shaw has highlighted the gap between Home Office policies and practice. Therefore, it would be wise to remain watchful on whether the promises made by the Home Secretary become a reality, or if they are merely a set of empty words.
For the time being, let’s hope for the best and let’s keep applying pressure on the government to effect radical detention reform. I invite all fellow advocates and campaigners to maintain focus and energy and use this Shaw Review 2 in an effective manner in the fight against indefinite detention and in calling for radical detention reform.