By JAMES EAGLE
REFUGEE campaigners have blown the lid off a detention scandal which has been dubbed “Britain’s Guantanamo.”
Hundreds of immigrants are being locked up indefinitely at the whim of a brutal and bungling Home Office, the London Detainee Support Group (LDSG) revealed.
Some have been detained for over three years, at horrifying cost to their mental health.
They are hearing voices or have been driven to cut themselves or attempt suicide.
The LDSG exposed the shocking situation in its Detained Lives study, which it launched on Thursday night.
It is the first such research on the subject and the LDSG hopes it will inspire mass public outrage over indefinite detention, which director Jerome Phelps branded “the most extreme threat to civil liberties in the UK.”
The Home Office secretly introduced the policy in 2006 after media hysteria over the release of 1,023 jailed foreign nationals.
It now prefers to detain foreigners from their release until they are deported. But hundreds of detainees – from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Sudan, China and Afghanistan – can’t be sent back.
So they are left languishing in removal centres with no idea when they will be released and little chance of seeing a judge.
The crimes for which detainees were jailed are often as minor as claiming asylum in a false name or petty theft after being denied benefits.
Legal expert Alasdair McKenzie told the launch meeting that, under the “staggeringly incompetent” Home Office, detainees faced constantly “moving goalposts” and had no idea how to progress their cases.
He attacked the “shocking and scandalous” way in which the government had introduced indefinite detention, which a US audience member called “Britain’s Guantanamo.”
Britain’s policy, which the report branded “ineffective and grossly inefficient,” is among the worst in the EU and defies calls by the UN human rights commissioner to set limits on detention.
The LDSG is in touch with 188 such detainees and Mr Phelps said this was just the tip of the iceberg, as his group only heard about individual cases by word of mouth.
“The human cost of this policy is vast,” he said. “We work with these guys on a day-to-day basis and we see them fall apart.”
He appealed to the hundreds present to write to their MPs to highlight this scandal and to “send a message to the Home Office that this is an unacceptable practice in a civilised country.”
‘Future? My future? There is no future,’ says Darfuri activist detained since 2006
THE Detained Lives report tells story after story of detainees trapped in a system they do not understand and cannot escape and which is slowly destroying their minds and spirits.
Reza, who fled Iran after being repeatedly detained for criticising the Iranian authorities, found himself locked up indefinitely in Britain.
“We just want to live our lives,” he says. “When I see I’m not welcome here, I understand, and I want to go. But how can I go when I’m detained?”
Some detainees cannot be deported under Home Office rules. Others face the terrible choice between indefinite detention and returning to a country where their life is at risk.
Darfuri activist Ahmed Abu Bakar Hassan was jailed for seeking asylum under a false name.
He has been detained since October 2006 and has agreed to return to Sudan – but the Sudanese embassy will not admit him.
“Future? My future? There is no future at all,” he says. “I’m lost. I cannot imagine that there is something called future.”
Mohammed Ali Saad tells of “hearing voices, hearing voices, tell you do crazy things to myself.”
“They keep changing my case worker. I never talk to them. I never meet them, I don’t know who they are,” says Joseph Lumba of his futile efforts to win freedom.
Karim Benhamou has been held for a shocking eight years. He says: “My beard is getting whiter every day. I feel like I’m 85 years old, like my life is gone, it’s wasted.”