What is immigration detention?

Information last updated on December 14, 2018

People can be held in immigration detention if their applications to be in the UK are being processed or have been refused. Many are asylum-seekers. Some are waiting to hear if they will be accepted as refugees. Others have been refused asylum.

There are nine detention centres in Britain. Some are run by private security companies, others by the Prison Service. People in detention cannot leave and have very limited freedom of movement within the centres. Security levels are similar to prisons.

Why can’t people go back?
Many people in detention cannot return to their countries, even if they want to.

Some are stateless, because their country will not accept them back. Most asylum seekers come without a valid passport. But countries like Iran and Algeria will not normally allow people to return unless they have a passport. Other people in detention have lived in the UK legally for many years or decades, and can no longer prove their original nationality. Under international law stateless people have similar rights to refugees and should be allowed to stay, but many find themselves detained indefinitely.

Other people are detained indefinitely because their countries are too dangerous for deportations to take place. For example, people from much of Iraq and Somalia cannot be deported because of the dangers involved in traveling there. Instead of being allowed to live in the community, many people are detained indefinitely. Unlike many other countries in Europe, there is no time limit on the length of time some one can be detained in immigration detention centres.

What are their rights?
People in detention have the right to apply for bail. If they are granted bail, they can live outside detention while they wait for their immigration case to be resolved. This usually involves living at a designated address, reporting regularly with the Home Office, and sometimes electronic monitoring.

However, it is very difficult to be released on bail. Around 90% of our clients’ bail applications are refused. People with minor criminal convictions are usually refused bail, even if deportation is impossible. They are often refused release despite doing everything that the courts and the Home Office have told them to do in order to return or be released.

How many people are long-term detained?
According to Home Office statistics as of June 2018, 60 people had been held in detention for over a year.

Is long-term detention necessary?
No. The Government claims that detention is necessary to stop people ‘absconding’, however the UK Border Agency refuses to publish statistics on how many people released from detention later abscond. Evidence gathered by NGOs show that the vast majority do not go underground. Many are still awaiting appeals and hope to be allowed to be granted legal status in the UK, so have strong reasons not to disappear. Others live with children, partners and families.

Detention is justified as a way to deport people, but the majority of people detained are not ultimately deported. If the UK Border Agency cannot deport someone in a year, it is unlikely that more time will make it possible.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?
Detaining somebody for a year costs over £30,000.

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