Lawyers and charities have called for controversial electronic tagging of migrants to be scrapped, describing it in a new report as a form of “psychological torture”.
Tagging of people in the criminal justice system has been in place for years but it was only since August 2021 that a duty to monitor those on immigration bail facing deportation was introduced. GPS tagging, a more invasive form that can track people’s every move including where they shop, worship and who they spend time with, was introduced in January.
The new report – Every Move You Make: the human cost of GPS tagging in the immigration system – raises concerns such as:
· GPS tagging is causing serious damage to people’s mental and physical health. They feel stigmatised by having a large, heavy tag strapped to their ankles and the tags can exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema.
· It is a form of invasive surveillance of people’s lives which goes beyond the needs of the Home Office to check that people are complying with bail conditions. Wearers fear behaviour linked to their immigration claims is also being monitored, such as the amount of time they spend with their children.
· The tags do not always work properly and as well as being large and cumbersome to wear can take up to four hours each day to charge. They cannot be removed from people’s ankles while being charged. Home Office sources say those tagged are given a helpline number to resolve any problems with the tags.
The research – from the charities Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and Medical Justice and the Public Law Project – is the first time that the human cost of this new form of tagging has been assessed.
“Tagging needs to be completely abolished. People must not be subjected to perpetual degrading, dehumanising and coercive surveillance measures,” it states.
Medical Justice reviewed 18 cases affected by GPS tagging, and BID 19.
Jonah Mendelsohn, a solicitor at Duncan Lewis, said legal challenges are being pursued for a number of people including survivors of trafficking, torture, domestic violence, and FGM who have been subjected to GPS tagging.
“Our clients say that wearing GPS tags has had serious consequences for their mental health, to the point that some of them have felt suicidal. They have reported feeling stigmatised due to the visibility of the tags, increasingly confined to their homes, and say that their lives are controlled by the Home Office at all times,” Mendelsohn said.
Annie Viswanathan, director of BID, said: “The people we spoke to felt profoundly dehumanised and degraded by this intense form of surveillance and had suffered a wide range of harms as a result.”
In June 2022 a pilot scheme was introduced to also tag some asylum seekers, including some facing forced removal to Rwanda.
Home Office freedom of information data shows that only 1.3% of people on immigration bail absconded in the first part of 2022.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As part of our wider plan we launched a 12-month GPS tracking pilot to maintain contact with offenders, deter absconding, breach of bail conditions, and prevent further crimes being committed. Decisions to tag are made on a case-by-basis, which take into consideration the individuals mental and physical health, and every decision to tag someone is reviewed after three months – to suggest otherwise is wrong.”