This post was written by Caroline Grogan, Communications and Media Officer for Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN).  CSAN are members of the Detention Forum. 

The issue of immigration detention is particularly important to CSAN, which works with the Detention Forum, due to the values Catholic Social Teaching shows us. The two most fundamental principles are Human Dignity, which is an integral tenet of CSAN’s values and the Common Good.

What this means is that we are all equal in the eyes of God and we share the world and therefore share the responsibility for protecting our brothers and sisters in detention. It is this focus on the human side of this issue which pervades our work, where we see those who migrate to the UK as created in God’s image just like you and I. At an address at the Harmondsworth Detention Centre, Emeritus Archbishop Kevin McDonald described this concept as such, “we are closely bound up with one another and we are all closely bound up with the people who are living in Harmondsworth Detention Centre”.

In this way, we see that currently immigration removal centres (IRC) do not respect the fundamental human dignity of those indefinitely detained, especially those with mental health issues and those who have been tortured. Indefinite detention causes severe anxiety and distress, exacerbating the suffering of individuals who have fled their country. Furthermore, the uncertainty of not knowing when detainees will be released enforces unjust conditions which harbour lack of respect and dignity. The International Detention Coalition has found migrants are far more likely to accept and comply with negative immigration decisions if the decision-making process is seen as fair.

Detention Centre rule 35 requires detention centre doctors to report to the Home Office ‘any detained person whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention’.  It is in place to protect vulnerable detainees whose health is likely to be affected, those with suicidal thoughts or someone who’s been the victim of torture. However it’s not effective or cognisant of the fact that unnecessary detention exacerbates mental health conditions. The Jesuit Refugee Service, one of our member organisations, visits people with mental health conditions in detention centres every week. They recognise these people should simply not be detained. JRS serves refugees by advocating on behalf of detainees at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre.

On a recent trip to Calais, a delegation from CSAN met a young Afghan boy who was detained shortly after arriving in the UK. Whilst in detention, he learnt his mother and father had been killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan and being in detention only made his grief worse. As a result, he now suffers from acute mental health issues and was noticeably distant when members of CSAN talked to him about his experience.


Image: CSAN partners in France Secours Catholique building a church with refugees. Photo by Elodie Perriot

Some questions we should be asking ourselves, in the words of Archbishop Kevin McDonald: why do we have a proprietorial and territorial mind-set regarding the privileged lives a lot of us are able to experience in the UK? And how can a system such as ours, where people are indefinitely detained (the only country in the EU with this practice) exist in a so-called civilised British society? Both issues warrant a greater response than the conditions the government is currently imposing.

Importantly, the human cost of indefinite detention far outweighs the financial cost (approx. £36,000) which is more than the costs involved in housing people in the community. As Catholics, we are morally compelled to preoccupy ourselves with the indignities faced by people in detention and to address the injustices faced by thousands whose only ‘crime’ is taking the chance to live a happy, safe and dignified life.