With US ‘migrant detention’ centres being compared to concentration camps, Alex Varley-Winter reports on how Britain has its own problem with non-criminal prisons.

MPs yesterday heard shocking testimony from a lawyer and two campaigners working with ‘modern slaves’, many of them teenagers, that they are detained by the Home Office at taxpayers’ expense and many re-traumatised in detention.

James Wilson, deputy director of Detention Action, sought to give MPs on the Home Affairs Committee a sense of the scale of Home Office errors, saying that his charity has found 31 victims of trafficking in detention centres this year. 

The Home Office is unfit to be the ‘sole competent authority’ for safeguarding trafficked people.

“We work with a thousand people in detention in an average year compared to 24,000 or so people detained,” he said. 

“In the first six months of this year, we’ve had contact with 31 people in detention where there were indicators of trafficking to us, which extrapolated across the system is clearly a significant number.”

The three frontline experts argued that the Home Office is unfit to be the “sole competent authority” for safeguarding trafficked people – a role the department was given this year.

Trafficked, Arrested, Abused

In one ‘appalling’ case presented as emblematic to the inquiry, a trafficked boy was needlessly placed by the Home Office for a whole year in Morton Hall Removal Centre where he was sexually assaulted, compounding his trauma.

The boy’s lawyer, Ahmed Aydeed, told MPs that, when the boy was picked up by police on a cannabis farm, a red flag of “reasonable grounds” to suspect that he was trafficked was not communicated to the Crown Prosecution Service, which prosecuted the boy. 

It is an unimaginable level of evil that has been done to people

Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK

“He is assessed as an adult although he is a minor,” Mr Aydeed explained. He said the initial error was then compounded when the Home Office transferred him to immigration detention at Morton Hall, where where he was sexually assaulted. The Home Office settled his claim with £85,000 in damages.

“Imagine the human suffering that was behind that,” Mr Aydeed told the committee. “That is because we have decided to keep that person detained for administrative convenience.”

Sarah Teather, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, also told MPs about other stories of street children caught up in trafficking, where there is evidence they were tortured, and they are still being held in immigration detention.

“It is an unimaginable level of evil that has been done to people,” Teather said. “At every stage people have turned away and failed to take responsibility for supporting and protecting them. And that really is very difficult to look at over an extended period of time… and still they were held in immigration detention.”

Alternatives to Detention Centres

MPs are being urged to consider why asylum seekers and migrants are being locked up like criminals, and at high public expense.

Mr Aydeed said: “It’s immigration detention, someone is not being detained because they committed a criminal offence. This is really detention for administrative convenience.”

He urged MPs to question both the human suffering and the £100m annual cost of detentions centres.


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“Is there really any basis to detain people under immigration powers?” he argued. When it was first introduced, a detention centre “was supposed to be almost an airport lobby, where someone is going to be removed within a very short space of time,” he said.

“The alternatives to detention are so successful. 95% that aren’t in immigration detention continue to abide by the conditions put on them.”

Conservative MP Chris Green said during the committee hearing: “It is clear that there are a number of people that should never have entered a detention centre.”

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