JRS UK responds to Home Office’s letter


Jesuit Refugee Service UK has expressed concern about indications from the Home Office that they are willing to instrumentalise the immigration and asylum process to punish those who protest its policies around detention.

Around 120 women being held in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre are currently on hunger strike, protesting against indefinite detention, the detention of people seeking asylum and the detention of vulnerable people, including survivors of rape and torture. More details of their concerns can be found here.

The Home Office responded to those on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood with a letter stating that hunger striking: “will not lead to the progress of your immigration or asylum case being halted or delayed;” and “may, in fact, lead to your case being accelerated and your removal taking place sooner” (emphasis added).

Sarah Teather, JRS UK’s director expressed concern: “This letter from the Home Office, indicating to those on hunger strike that their protests could speed up their removal from the UK demonstrates not just their disregard for due process in the immigration system, but also their willingness to misuse their substantial powers against migrants in punitive ways. Most especially, the willingness to use the asylum process to punish those within it, shows an utter disregard for questions about the need for international protection, which should be the focus of asylum proceedings.

“The UK currently detains tens of thousands of men and women each year in immigration detention, without time limit and with very little oversight. Many of those in detention have been through, or are going through, an asylum system which already creates barriers to being heard and treated fairly.  Here, we have a shocking instance of just how dangerously unfair the process has become.

“This story casts a light on the kinds of attitudes that flourish when you create systems which render people powerless and operate them away from the glare of scrutiny.

“It is time to end indefinite detention.”

The UK is the only country in Europe without a time limit on detention.  The majority of those in detention have claimed asylum (at the end of 2017, 59 percent of those held in immigration detention had claimed asylum in the UK). A report published by Women for Refugee Women in October 2017 highlighted the fact that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are routinely detained (85% of interviewees in Yarl’s Wood had experienced some form of violence).

JRS UK has an outreach service to the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centres where it undertakes pastoral and befriending work with all those held in detention, including asylum seekers, and others struggling to regularise their immigration status.  It has previously expressed concern that many of those seeking its help appear to be victims of trafficking, and reacted with alarm at the rising numbers of EU citizens in detention also seeking its help.  JRS UK is joining others in arguing for an end to indefinite detention.


This article was first published on the JRS UK website.

Journey with JRS this Lent: each week, we will follow the experiences of one of the refugees JRS accompanies. Each e-mail will provide an opportunity for Prayer, a focus for alms giving, and a point of reflection to support our fast. You can sign up to receive these e-mails here.