What is immigration detention?

In 2019, more than 24,000 people were detained. The Home Office decides who should and should not be detained. Many people who are detained have claimed asylum in the UK and are waiting for their application to be processed. Others have had their application for asylum refused; overstayed on a visa or ‘breached’ their immigration conditions e.g. missing an appointment to report to the Home Office.

50% of all those detained are released back into the community. Once detained, a person can be re-detained, and re-detained without limit. People who are detained indefinitely do not have a release date to count down to; they can only count up. This has a devastating impact on mental health with more than one person a day requiring treatment for self-harming in UK detention centres. In UK detention centres, between November 2016 and November 2017, there were 10 deaths.

Detention is not only a waste of human life, it is also a waste of money. It costs, on average, more than £30,000 to detain someone for a year. 

In 2015, a cross-party report on indefinite detention concluded categorically that it was time for a 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.

There are, at present, ten immigration removal centres in the UK (including short term holding facilities). Some are run by private security companies, others by the prison service. People who are detained cannot leave and have limited freedom of movement within the centres. 

Detention might be for days and weeks, but it could be for months and years. According to Home Office statistics as of June 2018, 60 people had been held in detention for over a year. The longest we know someone to have been detained for administrative purposes is nine years.

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 United Kingdom is the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely under immigration rules.