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Court rejects call to release hundreds of detainees

However, Detention Action says the ‘battle is not over’

CAMPAIGNERS against immigration detention said that the “battle was not over” today after the High Court rejected a call for the immediate release of people amid the coronavirus crisis.

On Wednesday evening Dame Victoria Sharp, sitting with Mr Justice Swift, claimed that the detention system “remains compatible” with obligations to provide a safe environment in removal centres. 

The ruling was made despite warnings that removal centres provide “perfect incubators” for Covid-19.

Charity Detention Action had sought the release of detainees on the grounds that conditions in removal centres, coupled with a lack of protective measures, would mean “significant numbers of immigration detainees will die or suffer very severe illness.” 

Evidence in support of the group’s case included a report by public-health expert Richard Coker which stated that it is “plausible and credible” that 60 per cent of detainees could become infected with the virus in four weeks’ time.

But Ms Sharp came down heavily on the side of the Home Office, claiming that although there was a risk of harm to detainees, “that risk is no different from the risk faced by the entire population.”

Detention Action director Bella Sankey insisted today that the “battle was not over” and that their legal challenge had proved successful regardless of the ruling. 

“While the High Court declined to grant our interim relief tonight, our litigation has already forced major and rapid concessions from the government,” she said.

Ms Sankey said their action had forced the Home Office to release 350 detainees in the past week, undertake a review of the detention of everyone held in removal centres and implement new guidance on hygiene standards. 

New detentions for people liable to be removed to 49 countries including Jamaica, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Albania have also been halted, she added. 

About 736 people are still being detained in Britain, and three detention centres have confirmed detainees have displayed symptoms of coronavirus.

Campaigners have also raised concerns that safety measures are still not being implemented properly. 

Migrant rights group Movement for Justice reported on Wednesday that Colnbrook immigration removal centre near Heathrow has been put in lockdown.

But detainees have still not been given hygiene equipment and are being kept two to a cell. 

“This is on top of visits, social & legal, being cancelled,” the group said, adding that it “cannot stress enough how seriously this is impacting detainees mental health — fear for themselves, fear for their families, unable to control their environment.”

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