Two down, one to go: Tories isolated on indefinite detention of asylum seekers

Today's confirmation that Labour will end the indefinite detention of asylum seekers means the Conservatives are the only major party still supporting the policy.

Labour first suggested it would back the campaign for a time limit on detention last month but the party's immigration initiative today – which otherwise is full of 'tough on immigration' policies – confirms how the party will approach the issue.

A Labour government would launch a consultation on the appropriate limits of detention and safeguards for detention decision-making, looking at international best practice and alternatives to detention. Probably the party will increase the requirements for asylum seekers to check in with authorities in the community in order to placate concerns about the effect of the policy.

The recent parliamentary detention inquiry recommended that MPs implement a 28-day limit. The inquiry didn't get a lot of press but it appears to have had a real effect. Since it reported, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have backed a time limit.

That means only the Conservatives are still holding the line on indefinite detention, despite the financial and psychological cost of the existing system.

Research suggests £76 million per year is wasted detaining migrants who are ultimately released. And the numbers keep on going up. More and more people are being detained over three months while fewer decisions are being made on their cases. The number of people held for three to six months has shot up from 1,757 at the time of the last election to 2,385 in this one.

Many are detained because their countries are too dangerous to send them back to. So when the majority are released, they're released into the local community.

It's the sort of thing which disproportionately affects Somalis. The courts have ruled the country is too dangerous to be sent back to – although that hasn't stopped the Home Office trying. Detention is supposed to be a means of securing people for deportation, but it's telling that even when deportation is not possible, the detention continues.

Many Somalis are detained, pointlessly, for years before release. The majority of them are basically British citizens if it wasn't for one piece of bad legal advice or a missing form. Most Somalis Detention Action have worked with spent their formative years in this country. Sixty-one per cent of them were children when they arrived in the UK. They are then summarily placed in detention, for years on end, without ever knowing when they'll be released.

Fifty-nine per cent of them are held for a year or longer before being released. Twenty per cent of them are detained for over three years. Hardly any were deported. At the end of this process, 88% are released back into the community. The whole thing is a waste of time. As Mr Justice Charles found when considering the case of a Somali refugee, the length of time migrants could be detained was "like elastic" – but "enough is enough, the elastic has broken".

It's a shame Labour and the Lib Dems took so long to come to their senses on this issue. It's time the Tories did too.