The Home Office is leaving immigration detainees without proper access to legal advice amid mobile phone signal outages, a human rights group claims.
Severe signal disruption has left hundreds of detainees at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigration centres unable to contact lawyers and family members since early January, according to charity Detention Action.
The technical issues come ahead of a removal flight on Tuesday where as many as 50 people are expected to be deported to Jamaica.
The High Court has given Home Secretary Priti Patel until Thursday (6 February) to explain how she will solve the problem.
Bella Sankey, Detention Action’s director said: “If you’re locked up in a detention centre and face being sent back to a country where your life is in danger, phone signal is a lifeline, not a luxury.
“Your phone is your connection to the outside world, and the only means to defend yourself against a wrongful removal.
“The remedy for this situation is simple, and the Home Office must ensure that anyone it intends to remove from the UK has access to adequate legal support.”
The disruption has been caused by a network failure affecting the O2 mast which serves the area of London surrounding Heathrow Airport.
A Home Office spokeswoman said that this outage began on January 13 this year and was resolved three days later.
It said that landlines have been available to the detainees and that they were kept up to date on the situation.
But Detention Action has been unable to reach 30 of its clients and many have described major problems contacting legal representatives.
It is calling for the Home Office to provide detainees sim cards for alternative mobile service providers unaffected by the outage.
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, said: “This technological failure is having very human consequences and the Home Office must start taking notice.
“People are being locked up in immigration detention centres, families are being ripped apart, and people who thought the UK was their home are facing removal on 11 February to a country they do not know. All without proper access to a lawyer, a most basic element of British justice.
“The devastating effects of the Windrush scandal should be very much at the forefront of the Home Secretary’s mind as she considers this important legal challenge and the upcoming charter flight to Jamaica scheduled by her department amid serious problems with access to justice.”
- Detention Action has launched a petition urging the Home Office to “restore access to lawyers” in migrant detention centres. Sign it here.