Women asylum seekers choir perform for MPs to raise awareness of 'tragedy' of limitless immigration detention

16 December 2015

The Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) Nightingales choir will perform Christmas carols for MPs and peers in Parliament today (Wednesday 16 December) – to raise awareness of the urgent need for an end to unlimited immigration detention.

The event – hosted by Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti and Conservative, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat politicians – will see MPs unite in support of a time limit on immigration detention.

Liberty is calling for an amendment to the Immigration Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, to create a maximum time limit of 28 days on the detention of immigration detainees.

Members of the WAST Nightingales have experienced Britain’s immigration detention system first-hand. The 16 women come from eight countries, and have sought asylum in the UK after facing forced marriage, FGM, sexual violence, political repression, trafficking and persecution because of their sexual orientation.

More than half of the choir are destitute, and four have been detained at the notorious Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre. During their time there, some of the women were handcuffed to go to medical appointments, had no access to sanitary products for days during their periods, and were locked in detention without knowing when they would be released.

Time for a time limit

The UK is the only country in the EU which does not place a time limit on immigration detention. Current UK policy states that detention should be “used sparingly” and “for the shortest period necessary”, but in recent years the Home Office has repeatedly been found to have unlawfully detained individuals for unnecessarily long periods of time.

In recent months, the status quo has been condemned by an increasing number of MPs from across the political spectrum, the Chief Inspector of Prisons and an all-party Parliamentary group on migration and refugees. Despite this, the Government continues to oppose the inclusion of a time limit in its Immigration Bill.

Conservative MPs David Burrowes and Richard Fuller, Labour’s Baroness Helena Kennedy, SNP MP Stuart McDonald, and Liberal Democrat Baroness Hamwee will host today’s event with Liberty.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

“This Christmas, our Government could use the Immigration Bill to end the degradation endured by women like the WAST Nightingales. That Britain imprisons brave women seeking sanctuary in appalling conditions should be a source of national shame. MPs must end this waste of public money and human life and limit immigration detention to a maximum of 28 days.”

David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, said:

“However people come to this country, whether by fair means or foul, whether facing removal or release, we must treat all people with equal dignity and respect. A maximum time limit will bring us in line with other European standards and protect vulnerable asylum seekers from further distress and trauma.”

Stuart McDonald, SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and party spokesperson on immigration, said:

"This is a great way to highlight the tragedy of routine immigration detention without time limit.

“Several thousand people will be detained in centres over Christmas not because of any crime – but for the Home Office's administrative convenience. Let's make sure 2016 is the year we end detention without time limit.”