Helping detainees in need of medical assistance

10th April 2020: Second confirmed COVID-19 case in immigration detention – tragedy could be avoided if all release detainees

Saturday, April 11th, 2020

Medical Justice statement 10th April 2020

A second Covid-19 case in immigration detention has been confirmed at Brook House immigration removal centre (IRC). A notice was given to detainees on Tuesday by G4S, the private contractor who runs Brook House IRC.

Yesterday Alison Thewliss MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Immigration Detention has called on the Home Secretary again to release all immigration detainees immediately – see the letter here.

Such a situation was entirely avoidable. I am increasingly concerned alarmed about the health of immigration detainees, particularly those with underlying conditions that mean they are at high risk if infected with COVID-19. Now more than ever, protection must be prioritised over immigration enforcement targets. IRCs are high risk for clusters of COVID-19 with staff providing a conduit for infection to and from the community. The continued spread of the virus clearly highlights the very real risk of uncontrolled outbreaks at IRCs ….

The government’s decision last week to release 4,000 prisoners was welcome, if not overdue. The release of prisoners, however, begs the question as to why immigration detainees, none of whom are serving a criminal sentence, are still being held.

Three prisoners have already died from COVID-19; I call on you to do all you can to avoid any such similar deaths in detention and urge you – once more – to arrange for the release of all immigration detainee with immediate effect.– Alison Thewliss MP

As of Tuesday, 153 staff and prisoners in prison had tested positive for Coivd-19 and 12 have died, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Last week the MoJ announced that 4,000 prisoners are being released early, reportedly as a part of the national plan to protect the NHS and save lives.

The prisoner release makes sense. What makes no sense is why immigration detainees whom are not serving a criminal sentence, continue to be detained. The fact that so many detainees cannot be removed from the UK during the global lockdown makes their indefinite detention in such perilous conditions seem incomprehensible, indefensible and just plain cruel.

Immigration detention is optional. Detainees are held purely for the administrative convenience of the Home Office. Their continued detention could mean that the Home Office is risking public health for its own administrative convenience – this would be unconscionable.

The government must value human life above its deportation statistics and release all immigration detainees immediately before avoidable tragedy occurs.” – Emma Ginn, Director, Medical Justice.

From talking to clients on a daily basis I know that the indefinite nature of detention and complete lack of control is hugely distressing. This feeling is currently exacerbated, detainees do not have control over who they come into contact with, find self isolating extremely difficult and report being fearful, the worry is clear in their voices.

 One detainee who had just found out about the confirmed Covid-19 case called me and said ‘I need to get out of here’. Another detainee said that he felt that he was going to die in detention, because his serious health condition made him so scared of Coronavirus.”Emily Lawton, Caseworker, Medical Justice

Anyone released from detention who does not have adequate accommodation or faces destitution must also be provided with suitable accommodation and financial support, regardless of immigration status. These measures are crucial to enable self-isolating and to protect the health of both of the individual and the general public.

Contact : Emma Ginn – Emma.ginn@medicaljustice.org.uk / 07786 517379