The Home Office has been accused of ordering “punitive deportations” after a letter sent to detainees on hunger strike at an immigration detention centre which warned of “accelerated removal” was leaked.
The letter from a Home Office immigration enforcement manager at Yarl’s Wood told detainees refusing food or fluid “may, in fact lead to your case being accelerated and your removal from the UK taking place sooner”.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott suggested the letter was a punitive measure to warn “women who have dared to go on hunger strike” not to protest at what they describe as the “inhumane conditions” there.
Ms Abbot made the comments after securing an urgent debate on the matter in the Commons — where MPs from across the House condemned the situation at Yarl’s Wood.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said the letter was part of official Home Office guidance and was published on the website in November.
She added: “That will only be handed to them after an extensive welfare interview which happens with a medical professional and is used to explain to individuals the very real risk they are putting themselves at by refusing food and fluid.
“We want nobody in detention to be in that situation and it is important that we explain to them the risks that are involved.”
The SNP’s immigration spokesman Stuart C McDonald went on to tell ministers the centres were a “stain on our democracy” and called for a vote on their future.
He said: “The large scale routine detention of thousands of human beings in private prisons for an indeterminate period, simply at the discretion of immigration officers, is frankly a stain on our democracy and an affront to the rule of law.
“This most recent episode in a detention facility is far from the first and it will not be the last unless there is radical change.
“Will the Government have the courage to allow this House to have a binding vote and the chance to make clear it is time for radical reform of the UK immigration detention regime?”
Labour MP Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardly) warned the facilities were “deterring” vulnerable women from contacting the police for fear they may be detained.
She said: “A woman in my consistency rang the police because of a threat to kill her from a violent ex-husband.
“She was taken to Yarl’s Wood, not to a place of safety. We detained a woman who was a victim, she has now been given indefinite leave to remain because her case was going through the process.
“Does the Home Office think that it keeps vulnerable women who are at risk of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse safe by basically deterring them from calling the police because they will be sent to a detention centre?”
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes urged Ms Phillips to meet with her about the case, adding: “I don’t want any woman to be at risk of harm from either a current partner or former partner”.
Ms Nokes also pointed out that only 5% of people without a right to be in the UK were in the centres, saying: “They are only there when there is a realistic chance of removal and we always seek to make sure they’re removed as soon as we possibly can.”