Locking up migrants is what Theresa May does best. Thousands of migrants were held in detention centres while she was home secretary.
Now May is prime minister things are set to get even worse—with solitary confinement and the return of detention for children.
The Home Office is set to tell guards at immigration detention centres they can throw detainees into solitary confinement even if doctors warn it could kill them.
The draft “detention services order” says guards can isolate anyone they judge to be “stubborn” or “disobedient”. They don’t have to tell the person why for up to two hours, or even consult an area manager unless the solitary confinement extends beyond two weeks.
Any medical advice that this may be life-threatening must be “urgently considered” but can then be ignored as long as the reasoning is logged.
The guidance came to light just days after a report into the death of a detainee chained to his hospital bed in 2012 was released. It questioned the use of restraint on ill detainees. The new policy could lead to further deaths.
Thousands of asylum seekers and migrants are detained every year. They have committed no crime, but their detention differs from a prison sentence only in that there is no time limit.
Some—such as the Byron burger restaurant workers rounded up last month—are detained in the run-up to being deported. Others are simply waiting for their asylum requests to be considered.
The centres are run by privatised guards from firms such as G4S, Serco and GEO. Fines for any escapes give them an incentive to err on the side of harshness.
At Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, the only detention centre for women, there have been allegations of horrific racist and sexual abuse by guards.
Some 52 pregnant women were locked up in the last five months of 2015. Twelve of them were held for over a month and two of them for over three months.
This shows the Home Office is not following its own guidelines that say pregnant women should only be held in “exceptional circumstances”.
After months of resistance the Home Office released the figures last week after a Freedom of Information request by the campaign Women for Refugee Women. And on the last day of parliament last month the Tories announced that children would again be held in detention centres.
The announcement rolled back a concession made in 2011.
Charity Barnado’s has been helping run a “pre-departure” centre for families which will now close. But it refuses to take part in running services for children inside a centre.
The brutal system of detention needs to end—but the Tories are going backwards.
The TUC has called for anti-racist solidarity, more funding for public services and clampdowns on abusive employers to reshape the debate on immigration.
Its new report on “Managing migration better for Britain” published last week contains much that is welcome. But it is fatally undermined by dangerous concessions.
The report rightly takes on the myth that migration is a drain on public services. And it is firmer than some union leaders on the issue of migration and wages.
It points out that “as a whole, migration does not reduce wages or increase unemployment”.
It is “unscrupulous employers” who “will always seek someone to exploit so they can undercut existing workers”.
So the report calls for more enforcement, regulation and collective bargaining to uphold the rights of all workers. This is the right approach. However, it also calls for more border control staff and a ban on advertising only abroad for jobs in Britain.
More border controls mean more of the repression that keep migrant workers vulnerable to bosses. Making it harder to hire foreign workers is a sop to scapegoating.
Worse still, it calls for legalising “local labour clauses” in procurement contracts. This is inherently discriminatory. And “local jobs for local workers” can spill over into the explicitly racist demand of “British jobs for British workers”. Even some of the call for more funding in public services is couched in dodgy assumptions.
The TUC calls for a “migration impact fund” to fund services in areas of high immigration.
It’s true that where population increases more services are needed. But funding more services for bigger populations is a simple general principle.
Talk of a special fund is about perception—showing those who see migration as a problem that their “concerns” are being dealt with. It panders to the very myths the report seeks to take on.
Trade union leaders are masters of talking out of both sides of their mouth. But beating racism will take principled consistency.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has joined the line-up of the Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) national conference on Saturday 8 October in central London.
He joins speakers including MPs Diane Abbott and Kate Osamor and union leaders Kevin Courtney (NUT), Mark Serwotka (PCS) and Sally Hunt (UCU).
Former child refugee Colette Levy, Talha Almad of the Muslim Council of Britain and Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren will also take part.
SUTR was the main organiser of national marches against racism in March of the past three years.
Its local groups have led campaigning in solidarity with refugees. And it has also been part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
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