Stateless people are being locked up in prison despite the fact there is nowhere to deport them to, a group of lawyers and academics have said.
Sometimes referred to as “legal ghosts,” those who do not have a state citizenship often find themselves in a legal limbo and stripped of the rights granted to others.
The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) says there are hundreds of these unfortunates in the UK and that many end up in jail.
ENS director Chris Nash told Reuters on Thursday that despite a 2013 procedure being established to allow such people to apply for official stateless status there was still a backlog of up to 800.
“Failure by the Home Office to put in place effective systems to identify stateless persons leaves some of the most vulnerable individuals exposed to repeated and lengthy detention,” Nash said.
“To put people in detention, in preparation for removing them, when it is clear that removal proceedings are likely to fail, violates domestic and international law,” Nash said.
The stateless also “find themselves particularly vulnerable, as the UK is the only EU country with no statutory time limit on immigration detention,” he warned.
Nash said it is “hard to avoid concluding that administrative detention is often intended as a punishment, as a deterrent.”
“If so, this is wrong and a purposeful violation of the aim of the regulations,” he added.
A Home Office spokesman told Reuters: “People are detained for the shortest period necessary and all detention is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it remains justified and reasonable.”
The centers where many stateless people are held have come in for regular and severe criticism.
Following numerous inspections, UK detention contractors running the Yarl’s Wood immigration center were accused of operating unsafe and under-staffed facilities.
In 2015 HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) noted that conditions had deteriorated “severely” in the past two years, and expressed particular alarm at the scores of pregnant women kept on-site.