03 March 2015, The Tablet

MPs attack ‘shocking’ treatment of migrants

A parliamentary inquiry headed by Catholic MP Sarah Teather has condemned the detention of migrants, including victims of trafficking and rape, in prison-like conditions.

The cross-party group of MPs and peers said today that current policies have a grave impact on detainees’ wellbeing, and singled out in particular the lack of an upper time limit for detention, the detention of pregnant women and victims of rape, and the failure to support mentally ill migrants.

On Sunday Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols said he was "dismayed" that immigration was becoming a major issue in May’s General Election and said voters should question all the parties on their policies towards immigrants, some of whom risked their lives reaching Europe.

The parliamentarians warned that some migrants were currently detained in conditions “tantamount to high security prison settings” and said it had been “shocked” by the personal testimony of mentally ill detainees.

The panel, which was jointly supported by the APPG on Refugees and the APPG on Migration, recommended a maximum time limit of 28 days immigration detention. England is currently the only country in the European Union not to have an upper time limit.

The Catholic Social Action Network (CSAN), the social action arm of the Bishops' Conference, backed calls for a time limit on detention.

Its Chief Executive, Helen O'Brien, said: “A time limit on detention would be an important first step in changing the culture of detention and the immigration system in the UK. Currently too many vulnerable people, who have already survived the most traumatic experiences, are suffering further harm by being detained with no idea as to when they will be released."

Ms Teather, the outgoing Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central who is to join the Jesuit Refugee Service after May’s election, said: “The current system is expensive, ineffective and unjust. We are calling the next Government to learn from the alternatives to detention that focus on engagement with individuals in their communities, rather than relying on enforcement and deprivation of liberty.”

The bishops’ conference representative with responsibility for migrants, Bishop Patrick Lynch, backed the report in a statement today.

He said: “Now, I sincerely hope that the findings will be translated into humane immigration policies for those who need protection and support from the state.”

Bishop Lynch is this week due to challenge three Catholic politicians from UKIP over their party’s manifesto.

Lynch, an auxiliary in Southwark, said on Tuesday that he had “plenty of questions on Ukip and the EU as well as immigration” and would be speaking to three MEPs. Their responses will help inform a guidance document on immigration he will issue ahead of May’s general election.

Last week the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued an overarching piece of guidance to help inform Catholic voters ahead of the election. It stated that the bishops back policies that fairly regulate immigration and recognise the rights of migrants.

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