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Information last updated on December 21, 2018

Detention doesn’t work… for anyone

In the UK, migrants are deprived of their liberty without charge or trial. The UK Border Agency detains migrants for longer than any other country in Europe.   Asylum seekers, people with previous convictions and other migrants are held in prison-like conditions without time limit.

Detention doesn’t work… for civil liberties

Every year thousands are locked up in detention centres, in high security prison conditions, for months, even years.  Immigration detention robs people of their physical and emotional freedom. Depriving people of their freedom indefinitely is an abuse of civil liberties and human rights. Terrorist suspects can only be detained without charge for 14 days.  Yet there is no time limit for detaining migrants.

Detention doesn’t work… if you can’t be deported

People who cannot be removed from the country should not be detained.  Some embassies, such as Iran or Iraq, refuse to grant people travel documents that would allow them to return.  The courts have suspended forced removals to other countries, due to the dangers involved.  Yet many people from these countries spend months or years in limbo in detention. Latest immigration statistics show that

Detention doesn’t work … if you shouldn’t be deported

Some people are detained for a deportation that is unjust. Some are survivors of torture or trafficking, facing returns to the same dangers.  Others are from countries like Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of Congo or Afghanistan, to which the UK makes mass removals by charter flight despite evidence of mistreatment and danger. Others face deportation to countries where they will not be able to access vital medical care. Those with severe mental health conditions find detention particularly unbearable;  the High Court has found that the detention of mentally unwell people amounted to cruel and degrading treatment, violating Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Detention doesn’t work for…people with British families

The UK detains and deports people who have lived lawfully in the UK for years, sometimes since they were young children. If they receive a prison sentence of 12 months, they can lose status in the UK. They often have British partners and children, and their siblings and parents have become British.  They may not speak the language or know anyone in their country of origin.  They face permanent separation from children, spouse, parents and the only country they know.

Detention doesn’t work for…. the taxpayer

Immigration detention is expensive.  It costs taxpayers £47,000 per year to detain just one person for a year.  Almost two-thirds of people detained for over a year are released back into the community because the UK Border Agency could not deport them. This wastes around £75 million of public money every year.  The government paid out £12 million in 2010 in compensation to people who were detained unlawfully.  Immigration detention wastes scarce resources that could be spent on services that people really need, such as youth clubs or hospitals.

 “There’s nothing to do, every night. I start hearing voices, hearing voices, tell you do crazy things to myself.  I’m using medication right now.  I’m depressing…  I’ve never had medication in my life before now, never.  Not in my country, never.  All this medication, sleeping tablets.  I’m coming in here and starting using everything.”
Mohammed, detained two years

 “My friend, I feel that I’m locked up in a room and the keys are lost.  I’m disconnected from life.”
Ahmed Abu Bakar Hassan, detained over two years

“I love this country. But now they want to deport me so they are holding me in detention. But it is impossible to deport people to Somalia because it is too dangerous. But every time I go for bail to get out of here, the Home Office barrister says that they will be able to send me back soon. It’s a lie but the judges believe them. So they keep me here. I am a human being, it is not right to detain us for an indefinite amount of time when they can’t deport us.”
Abdullah, detained two years

What are the alternatives? 

The UK is unique in Europe in having no time limit and routinely using long-term detention. European law called the EU Returns Directive includes a maximum limit of 18 months, in exceptional circumstances.  But most EU countries have much shorter time limits.  The UK is one of only three countries which has refused to sign up to the European rules.  The UK should take a leading role in the EU and implement a statutory time limit of 28 days.

Take action

Write to your MP and let them know why we need to end indefinite detention.

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