What is immigration detention?

In 2021, just under 24,500 people were detained in the UK under immigration powers. When people are detained under immigration powers, they are held for administrative purposes in prison-like detention centres, with no time limit. Detention is inefficient, expensive and harmful: it damages the lives and mental health of people detained, and harms families and communities.

Why are people detained?

The Home Office says it detains people in order to remove them from the country – this is why the official name for detention centres is ‘Immigration Removal Centres’. However, in practice the majority of people who are detained are released back into the community, meaning their detention served no purpose.

Who gets detained?

Anyone who does not (yet) have leave to remain in the UK is liable to be detained. This includes people who have claimed asylum, people who do not have valid visas, and people facing deportation after contact with the criminal justice system. Some people in detention have arrived in the UK recently; some have lived in the UK for many years, and may have families and children here.

Where are people detained?

There are currently nine detention centres in the UK (including short term holding facilities). Details of these detention centres are available here. All are run by private security companies. Detention centres look and feel like prisons: people who are detained cannot leave and have limited freedom of movement within the centres. People can also be held under immigration powers in prison.


How long are people detained?

The UK is the only country in Europe with no time limit on immigration detention. This means that people can be detained under immigration powers for weeks, months or even years. People who are detained indefinitely do not have a release date to count down to; their detention is indefinite. Of the people detained in 2019, over 50% were detained for over a month, with 167 people detained over 6 months and 37 people over a year.  The longest we know someone to have been detained for administrative purposes is nine years.


What are the impacts of detention?

Detention has a devastating impact on mental health with more than one person a day requiring treatment for self-harming in UK detention centres. Since 2000, 55 people have died whilst detained under immigration powers. Detention also damages families and communities. Parents who are detained are separated from their children, and may be held in centres hundreds of miles away which are difficult to visit.


How much does detention cost?

Detention is not only harmful, it is expensive. It costs, on average, more than £36,000 to detain someone for a year. Detention cost the taxpayer nearly £100 million in 2020-21.


What are politicians and professionals saying about detention?

In 2015, a cross-party parliamentary report on indefinite detention concluded categorically that it was time for a time limit. In 2017, both the British Medical Association and the Bar Council issued reports calling for an end to indefinite detention. In 2019 the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report calling for a 28 day time limit. They found that detention is used too often, people are detained for the wrong reasons and vulnerable people, such as victims of torture, are being detained when they should not be.


What about human rights?

Indefinite detention is both a breach of human rights and of the rule of law. ‘No one,’ as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, ‘shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.’ The Home Office was found to have detained more than 850 people unlawfully between 2012 and 2017.