What is Immigration Detention?

People held indefinitely in immigration detention are among the most disadvantaged groups in this country. Many are young, vulnerable, away from family, homeland, familiar culture, religion and language, and are caught up in a system they do not understand. Unlike people held in prisons serving custodial sentences, they do not know how long they will be held. In their isolated state, they meet a system that frequently does not believe what they say and makes it clear that they are not wanted here.

Many have suffered in their homeland: poverty, persecution, imprisonment, violence and sometimes torture. Having come this far, some are still optimistic when they arrive in detention and take part in the activities provided. However, as time goes by, they may become more anxious, depressed, or even suicidal, and start to wonder if they will ever get out. Others have been living in the UK for some time, perhaps having overstayed a work or student visa, or waiting for an asylum decision. Although some may criticise them for not keeping to the rules, it is tragic for them when they are uprooted from their lives here. Many more have been detained after completion of a custodial prison sentence. While some detainees have committed serious crimes in the UK, the majority that we come across have been convicted of relatively minor, non-violent offences.

Some detainees have no legal adviser. Others are represented by firms who take their money and appear to do little to further their case. Some have good solicitors, but cannot understand the legal language they use. Detainees’ experiences before arriving at the Gatwick IRCs; their anxieties about loved ones left behind; the experience of detention itself; the slowness and incomprehensibility of the system, and their isolation from everything that is familiar to them, can lead to depression and sometimes mental breakdown. They often feel powerless. As visitors, we often feel the same.