Mon, 8 March 2021

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A Man Who Says He Was Unlawfully Detained By Immigration Officers Fears He May Have Caught Covid From One Of Them

A Man Who Says He Was Unlawfully Detained By Immigration Officers Fears He May Have Caught Covid From One Of Them

The man was put into isolation after one of his detaining officers tested positive for coronavirus (PA)

4 min read

Legal representatives for a man who says he was unlawfully detained by immigration enforcement officers fear he is at risk of contracting coronavirus after one of the arresting officers tested positive.

The case has highlighted wider concerns that the health of immigration detainees is being put at risk as enforcement is “ramped up” despite the current lockdown.

Legal representatives for the man, who wishes to remain anonymous, claim immigration enforcement officers detained him at his family home on 4 November, the day before the national lockdown started.

His lawyers state that the man was unlawfully detained as he currently has an outstanding appeal regarding his immigration status, which was incorrectly logged due to an error. 

A request for bail from his solicitor was later denied by the courts on the grounds that a decision on his status may be imminent, despite the case being outstanding since February.

Shortly after his detention, officers attended his family home to inform them that one of the enforcement officers had since tested positive for Covid-19. The detained man was also moved into isolation.

“On the face of it, this is appalling. Not only is the detention unlawful, but the potential [consequence is] a Covid spread to my client, to his family — all of whom have had to be tested — and onwards to the detention centre,” said Nick Armstrong, the barrister representing the man. 

“Home Office decision-making is very often hopeless, but the consequences of that hopelessness is all the greater in the present circumstances. Much greater care, thought, and safeguards are all required”.

Other immigration lawyers have also expressed concern that immigration enforcement is ramping up again after pausing during the first national lockdown.

One legal professional contacted by PoliticsHome said they currently had three clients who had contracted coronavirus while in detention, including one who required hospital treatment.

Meanwhile, Celia Clarke, director of non-profit organisation Bail for Immigration Detainees, said that they had learned of three people within the last week who had been detained after being released during the first lockdown.

“It is difficult to overstate the harm caused by this unpredictable and arbitrary cycle of detention and release, especially during a pandemic,” Ms Clarke said. 

“In addition to new detentions, charter flights continue at a rapid pace including a flight planned for next week to Ghana and Nigeria with up to 30 people."

She continued: “Everybody in the UK has been asked to make huge sacrifices to prevent a catastrophic situation in which thousands die every day and the NHS is totally overwhelmed. 

“It is high time the Home Office stopped this utterly reckless practice of detaining and deporting people in the middle of a pandemic."

Commenting on these reports, Chai Patel, policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said: “It's shameful that the government has continued to detain people during the pandemic.

“Over the past few weeks, we've also seen the Home Office begin to return to pre-pandemic enforcement norms, despite the second wave ravaging on. This has clearly jeopardised people's health for no good reason.”

“The government should act with basic humanity and suspend all immigration detention and enforcement for the duration of the pandemic. No-one should have their lives put at risk because of their immigration status.”

Over 300 people were released from immigration detention in March—around a quarter of the total people in detention at the time—as underlying health conditions or other factors put them at high risk should they contract coronavirus.

However, high court judges rejected subsequent calls by human rights charity Detention Action to release a further 700 people, claiming that the Home Office had taken a range of “sensible” and “practical” steps to make detention centres safer.

This included single occupancy rooms, the provision of face masks and ensuring all detainees had access to soap and sanitiser. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We will continue to remove foreign national offenders who abuse our hospitality and those who have no right to remain in the UK.

“The government is fixing the broken asylum system to make it firm and fair. It will be compassionate towards those who need our help, welcoming people through safe and legal routes, but will stop the exploitation of the system by those who come here illegally and often make unfounded and meritless claims to remain.”

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