Immigration Detention: The Full Scoop


Image of people standing outside a detention home

Heard of immigration detention? It’s Britain’s dirtiest secret: the terrible way we treat people who have come to the UK in search of safety or a new life. Even MPs themselves have warned there are “serious problems" in almost every part of the detention system. 

Here’s just a few of the reasons why immigration detention needs to go: 

A fundamentally broken, unjust system

Not only is the UK government routinely locking people up without warning, but there’s no time limit on how long someone can be held! People in detention can only count the days up, never knowing when they may see their families again or have their freedom returned. The UK is the only country in Europe that doesn’t have a time limit on detention. This also means there’s no sense of urgency for cases to be resolved by the Home Office. Trapped in a backlog of cases, people also end up trapped in detention for months or even years! 

Without any automatic review or oversight from a judge, Home Office officials are the ones to decide who to detain. This means people can be ripped from their families and communities with no notice - often in traumatic 'dawn raids’ or simply when they attend a regular appointment at the Home Office - without a judge ever seeing their case. In contrast to people in detention, if someone is suspected of a criminal offence, they can only be held by police for 24 hours without being charged, or for a maximum of 96 hours if a judge says they can. And as a reminder, no one in detention is there to protect society or as a punishment, it’s purely for admin purposes!

The Home Office say they only detain people as a last resort immediately before a deportation, and for the shortest time possible. But this isn’t the case. The reality is people in immigration detention are trapped in a maze with seemingly random rules, which destroys any trust that they or their immigration case will be treated fairly.  

Appalling treatment and conditions 

The conditions in detention are notoriously awful. People are badly treated, and their mental and physical health quickly deteriorates. In 2018, disgraceful physical and verbal abuse of detainees by staff was revealed at Brook House detention centre, and sadly this isn’t an isolated case.

Whilst COVID-19 was raging through the country, people trapped in immigration detention couldn’t even access hand soap! These conditions are especially concerning during a global pandemic but aren’t acceptable at any time. 

For vulnerable people this is even worse

Being locked up without due cause and with no idea when you’ll be released is traumatic for anyone, but particularly so for survivors of torture or victims of human trafficking. The Home Office regularly and wrongly detains people without adequate safeguards meaning there’s an additional risk to people’s physical and mental health. 

More than half of all people in immigration detention have sought asylum in the UK at some point, meaning they are here seeking safety from persecution, war or violence, only to be locked up by the country they hoped would offer them protection.

Families and communities are torn apart

Immigration detention doesn’t just cause severe distress for those who are detained, it also rips apart families and communities. 

When the people who are put through this traumatic experience and lose months or even years of their lives to detention, this isn’t something which can just be forgotten once they’re released – they, and their families and friends, must forever live with the trauma their detention caused. 

The system is so inhumane and cruel that many people going through the UK’s asylum process live in constant fear of being detained at any moment further adding to the harm. 

It’s unnecessary

The Government says it only detains people immediate before deporting someone, but more than 60% of people detained end up being released back to their communities where they must then try and rebuild their lives again. For many, their detention had no impact on their immigration case and was completely unnecessary. In fact, the UK government gets it wrong so often that they pay out millions in compensations each year — between 2012 and 2017, the UK government paid a hefty £21 million after wrongly detaining 850 people

It doesn’t have to be this way! Most immigration cases can be successfully resolved with people continuing to live in their communities with their families - without detention or tearing people away from their families. This is a significantly more humane and effective way of resolving immigration claims and leads to better outcomes for everyone involved.  

A recent pilot project showed that these alternatives are so much better – they’re significantly more humane and have the added bonus of being up to half the cost! Our friends at Detention Action have also been piloting an alternative to detention with excellent results. Find out more about their Community Support Project and other alternatives here.

Take Action Now!

It’s clear that this system is broken and inhumane. Tried and trusted alternatives rooted in dignity and compassion already exist—the Home Office just needs to use them. Yet instead, they are choosing to shut down successful alternatives and increase the use of harmful practices.

We cannot stay silent. We must raise our voices and demand justice. Join us in calling for an end to inhumane detention.

Take Action Now!