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Shadow immigration secretary demands government release immigration detainees

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Detainees already thought to be infected are being held in isolation at Colnbrook immigration removal center near Heathrow. 14 March, 2020. (Photo via AP)

Following the publication of an open letter by 10 organisations that advocate for migrants and human rights, warning of the “risk of an uncontrolled outbreak of Covid-19 in immigration detention,” the shadow immigration minister has urged the government to release people held in immigration removal centers.

The shadow immigration minister, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, is of the view that detainees should be released and monitored using bail conditions and electronic tagging rather than being confined in detention centers, where there is a high risk of transmission due to the cramped conditions.

“We already know prisons of all kinds are a very high-risk area for transmission with people kept in close proximity,” she added.

“The Home Office has suggested that nobody in immigration detention centers has caught the disease yet, but how can they know that given the wider absence of community testing and the asymptomatic nature of the disease? We need urgent clarity on this.”

Ribeiro-Addy said many of those presently detained will be freed very soon once they prove their right to citizenship, adding, “It’s completely unfair to put them at heightened risk in this way."

The shadow immigration minister, Bell Ribeiro-Addy

“As the government draws up its emergency plans for prisons, they must do the right thing and put human life before their commitment to arbitrary net migration targets.”

The letter was signed by Bail For Immigration Detainees, Medical Justice, Detention Action, Right To Remain, Immigration Law Practitioners Association, Women for Refugee Women, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Liberty, Migrants Organise and Medact.

Britain is hoping to prevent incidents such as the prison riots linked to coronavirus quarantine measures in Italy, which resulted in the deaths of several inmates, from occurring at home.

Seven immigration removal centers across Britain, which are mostly run by private outsourcing firms, may hold as many as 2000 detainees at any point in time.

Two detainees at the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center, near Heathrow Airport, originally from Iraq and Nigeria, tested negative but said at least seven others had been quarantined and tested.

The men revealed that the wardens moved freely between the quarantined area and other parts of the center, and that their cellmates were not isolated.

One of the men said, “My illness began with coughing and a high temperature, I felt pain in my whole body. I went to healthcare and told them I was feeling ill. Initially they did not put me in isolation and just told me to drink water. I was tested for coronavirus but had to wait five days for the results. I was very worried during that time. I don’t think detention centers are ready to tackle an outbreak of coronavirus.”

Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, said, “We are gravely concerned that government’s coronavirus plan makes no mention of detention and deportation.

“The government must prepare to release everyone being detained. Mass detention without adequate healthcare is a risk to public health and detention is only lawful if there is a prospect of imminent removal.

“While detainees are being tested for a deadly virus of pandemic proportions, deportations should be suspended.”

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