“Escaping the Sunken Place: indefinite detention, asylum seekers, and resistance in Yarl’s Wood IRC”

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 The Law Society has recently raised concerns about the UK’s migration system, stating that ‘failures in UK immigration and asylum undermine the rule of law’. Nowhere are those problems more apparent than in the UK’s handling of migrants and asylum seekers in detention centres. A particular recurring issue that speaks to the Law Society’s concern is the absence of a defined time limit for immigration detention. The possibility of indefinite detention has been a source of tension both within British politics, and within UK immigration detention centres. An example of this can be understood with reference to the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Bedfordshire, known for its controversial and rebellious past. In 2015 Nick Hardwick, a former chief prisoner inspector, labelled the Centre a place of ‘national concern’, after examining the mistreatment of vulnerable detainees. Yarl’s Wood’s problematic history, seems to have continued into the present, following a detainee led hunger strike that resulted in ‘renewed concerns’ over health care in detention centres. In addition to protesting the standard of medical treatment received by detainees, the strikers’ underlying focus was on indefinite detention.  The Home Office’s response to these strikes was unsympathetic, it sent a letter to detainees suggesting that their continued participation in the strike may in fact result in their removal being accelerated. Although, the hunger strike ended in March 2018 the Home Office’s response to the strike raised some interesting legal and philosophical questions about human rights and resistance in detention centres. In order to grapple with some of these issues, this paper has been separated into two parts. The first part will attempt to contextualise the existing immigration regime and explore how legal disputes might fit within the broader scheme of opposing indefinite detention. It will also briefly examine the legal challenges that may arise from the use of threats of accelerated deportations. 

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