Depriving a person of their liberty is a very serious thing to do.
This fact is generally acknowledged in UK law. The police can only hold suspects for 24 hours before they have to either charge them or let them go. If they’re dealing with a suspected murderer, they might get to keep them for up to 96 hours. Terrorist suspects can be detained without charge for up to fourteen days.
Indefinite detention is most commonly the lot of people deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others due to mental illness. Such powers are misapplied with frightening frequency in the UK. But mental health law dictates that a decision to ‘section’ somebody must be agreed by three highly-trained professionals.
The rough sleepers NELMA has spoken to about their detention breached no laws. They didn’t even break immigration rules. They speak sagely—and above all sanely—about the ordeal the UK government has put them through.
Teofil and Marineta, who feature in the video for our crowdfunding appeal, were locked up in Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre with a recent history of serious sexual abuse by guards, for almost a month. They weren’t told when—or if—they would be released. And nobody mentioned that they could appeal.
They were told why they had been imprisoned. It was because they didn’t have anywhere to live.
Mihal and Teodora spent three months in Yarl’s Wood. Guards confiscated Teodora’s thyroid medication and wouldn’t give it back. Mihal witnessed one of the many suicide attempts made by desperate detainees. Mihal and Teodora were working when they were raided by immigration. They had been sleeping rough for three days.
There was no vote in parliament to allow the detention of rough sleepers. Theresa May just changed the rules one day. Low-level functionaries—not specialist professionals—get to decide that a homeless person should be locked up. Without charge. Indefinitely.
Please give to our crowdfunder. It could be the best chance we have of defeating this unfair and inhumane policy. But it could also be the beginning of a fightback against a frightening erosion of civil liberties. Not ‘theirs’. Ours.