Why detention at Heathrow must end

There are so many reasons for opposing these centres, and the plan to replace them. No human should be subjected to the inhumanity and misery of immigration detention. In 2018, there were 233 incidents of self-harm that required medical attention in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook and prisoners are locked in their cells there almost half the time. The following quotes are from former detainees describing life there:

When I got to Harmondsworth I was treated like a prisoner, they locked me in the room after 8pm everyone is locked in. My liberty has not been respected. My human rights have not been respected.

They treat us like animals, what do we have? […] I got flu, I got cold, I got cancer, I got pain in my leg, they just give you paracetamol.

This place is disgusting. It’s nasty. It’s got loads of bed bugs. There are people slicing themselves with blades. The food is not good. This is not a place to lock up no-one. It’s unclean. People are taking drugs like its outside.

Immigration detention has been described as having a ‘systemic culture of abuse’, and since Mitie have taken over, there have been almost a hundred recorded allegations of staff members assaulting detainees. The Institute of Race Relations found Harmondsworth to be one of the most deadly places to be detained; and of the 34 deaths in detention since 1989, a total of 14 of these were people who were detained at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook. The House of Commons Home Affairs committee described the Home Office as having ‘a shockingly cavalier attitude to the deprivation of human liberty and the protection of people’s basic rights’.

Mitie runs these centres for profit, and achieve this by systematic under-staffing and by using detainee labour paid just £1 an hour. Immigration detention is also hugely expensive. It costs on average £87.71 per day to detain someone, and figures show the annual cost of the detention system is around £108 million – however ‘detention costs’ do not include the administrative costs, the cost of opposing bail and other legal costs which could amount to thousands of pounds per detainee, nor do they include the costs the Home Office has paid out in compensation for unlawful detention. The real cost of detention is therefore significantly higher than this number.

Furthermore, there is strong cross-party parliamentary support for 28-day time limit on detention, and it is quite possible that the current immigration bill will be amended to introduce this time-limit. This means the amount of people who could legally be detained could shrink by as much as 60%. Based on 2018 numbers of people in detention, this means at least 1,322 less people could be legally detained at any one time, but it could mean as many as 1,645 less people in detention. In these circumstances, there is even less justification for a costly replacement detention centre to be built, given that the numbers in the detention estate are expected to decline by such a vast amount.