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‘A government intent on cruelty’: Number of people in immigration detention soars

New Home Office figures show the number of people being held in immigration detention is up by a quarter on pre-pandemic levels.

The number of people being held in immigration detention has increased by nearly threefold on 2020 levels, according to new statistics released by the Home Office. 

The figures show 2,038 people were being held in immigration detention at the end of June 2022, compared with 698 in June 2020, when the impacts of the pandemic were most pronounced.

Even adjusting for the pandemic, the number of detainees in June 2022 was 24 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels at the end of December 2019.

It follows reports the government is planning a new deportation flight to Rwanda.

Zehrah Hasan, advocacy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the data showed the government was “intent on cruelty”, adding that it was “deeply worrying” to see detention statistics rise above pre-pandemic norms. 

UK detention centres for immigrants have frequently come under fire for poor standards and safety issues. 

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Yarl’s Wood detention centre is a holding facility for people arriving in the UK and has previously faced allegations of abuse and sexual violence.

The latest statistics from the Home Office show the number of women detained in immigration centres has more than doubled in just under three months, with 36 women detained at the end of March 2022 compared to 75 in June 2022. 

A spokesperson for Women for Refugee Women condemned this increase, saying: “We know that most women in detention are survivors of rape, trafficking and torture, and that locking them up in detention is retraumatising and has a hugely negative impact on women’s mental health.”

They added that the government is planning to open a new unit for 55 women at Yarl’s Wood in September, and urged ministers “to end the detention of women immediately to prevent further harm”.

Zehrah Hasan, advocacy director JCWI, added:“Like all of us, people who’ve come to build their lives here deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, but these latest figures show we have a government that’s intent on cruelty. It’s particularly shameful that Priti Patel continued to detain people during the peak of the pandemic, putting people at grave risk when she should have been prioritising public health. And to now see detention levels rise above pre-pandemic norms is deeply worrying. 

“People who are detained experience trauma, abuse, are denied support, and are torn from their communities. It’s time our government stopped locking people up, and started supporting the housing and support projects which we know work better for migrants and the local communities they are part of.”

Maria Brul, Detention Action’s campaigns and advocacy coordinator said the statistics made clear the “broken system is desperately in need of reform” and called for time limits on detention powers.

She added: “The harm inflicted by indefinite immigration detention is separating families, exacerbating mental health vulnerabilities and driving people to suicide. This government’s increased use of detention is at the cost of traumatising people who simply seek our protection and a right to a family life here in the UK.”

A Home Office spokesperson said:

“The public expects us to remove people who have no right to be here and immigration detention is a critical part of that system.

“Since the pandemic, an increasing proportion of those entering detention have been small boat arrivals who have been temporarily detained in order to confirm their identity and register their asylum claim.

“Our New Plan for Immigration remains a key government priority, and will fix the UK’s broken asylum system, allowing us to support those in genuine need while preventing abuse of the system and deterring illegal entry to the UK.” 

This article was updated on 30/8/22 to reflect the fact that Yarl’s Wood no longer mostly houses women and last faced allegations of abuse in 2014.

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