Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the impact of Covid-19 on immigration removal centres (IRCs).
I know that there are ongoing concerns about this, including reports of the conditions in these settings and difficulties implementing social distancing guidelines. The health and safety of both detainees and staff in IRCs is of course vitally important.
The Home Office announced in late March that around 350 immigration detainees had been released in response to coronavirus, taking the remaining IRC population down to 736. Ideally, I would like to see all those who absolutely do not need to be in immigration detention be moved into the community where it is possible to do so. This does, however, require that the support services we would expect to be in place for these individuals, including proper accommodation where they can self-isolate, are available.
The Government has emphasised that all IRCs have communicable disease contingency plans and dedicated health facilities, and that it is working to ensure adequate supply of soap and cleaning materials. Minister have also said that they are taking steps to ensure detainees showing symptoms, or those at higher risk, have single-occupancy rooms and that social-distancing measures can be implemented in communal spaces.
All symptomatic key workers, including IRC staff, can now refer themselves for a Covid-19 test. However, I know that many key workers are having to travel long distances for these tests, making it often impractical and sometimes impossible. This needs to be fixed and I believe the Government should work with local authorities to set up additional testing centres in community spaces, such as town halls and libraries, that are currently closed.
Please rest assured that my Labour colleagues and I will continue to monitor the situation closely.