MPs and members of the House of Lords have rounded on the Home Office after it provided “no credible explanation” for twice detaining two children of the Windrush generation.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said an examination of department files found Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan were “wrongly” held despite the Home Office having had “no right” to do so.
In a scathing report of the department's handling of the Windrush crisis, the committee said immigration officials used the “simply unlawful” approach of detaining people after demanding proof of a right to remain that was “very difficult” to provide.
The wider Windrush scandal has sparked major criticism of the UK’s treatment of long-standing British citizens who arrived from the Caribbean decades ago and a wider critique of the “hostile environment” approach to migration.
Some of those swept up in the scandal have lost access to public services and faced the threat of deportation despite their decades-long residency in the UK.
The committee called for a “fundamental change in the law, culture and procedures” at the Home Office including a more “humane approach” to detainees and more accountability of those carrying out or prolonging detentions.
They added that home secretary Sajid Javid should sign off officials’ right to detain and called for more opportunities to challenge wrongful detention and clearer parameters to limit its use.
Committee chair Harriet Harman said the report laid bare the “systemic problems with wrongful detention at the Home Office” and offered a chance to correct them.
“Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan were both locked up, twice, when the state had no right to deprive them of their liberty,” she said.
“The department simply ground forward through their processes, clearly traumatising Ms Wilson and Mr Bryan in the process.
“The home secretary’s personal commitment to human rights is important. This report should alert him to the scale of human right violations within the powerful department he now leads.
“It is simply not plausible that these cases were just ‘mistakes’."
She added: “The Home Office did not behave like a department which had discovered it had made a terrible mistake, demonstrating a systemic failure when it comes to detaining individuals and depriving them of their liberty.
“What happened to these two people was a total violation of their human rights by the state’s most powerful government department.
“It needs to face up to what happened before it can even begin to acknowledge the scale of the problem and stop it happening again.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “It is clear beyond any doubt that these were not isolated mistakes or the product of a few over-zealous officials.
“We know now that there were deportation targets and even that bonuses were paid for meeting them.
“Innocent people were routinely accused of being illegal immigrants, and then had to try to prove they were not."
Earlier this month Javid pledged a "fresh look" at key parts of the UK's immigration policy.
A Home Office spokesman told Civil Service World that Javid had offered personal apologies to Mr Bryan and Ms Wilson and had been clear that the department had to “learn from the wrongs” they and other members of the Windrush generation had experienced.
“Our priority is to ensure that those who have struggled to demonstrate their right to be here are supported to do so and we have issued more than 2,000 documents confirming people's settled status,” he said.
“In addition, we have committed to setting up a compensation scheme. But we know that it is equally important that we ensure that nothing like this can happen again.
“That is why we are carrying out historical reviews of detention and removals and have commissioned an independent lessons learned review.”