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Immigration detention in the UK: a short briefing

from the Campsfield Monitor, November 2011 (See Publications, Campsfield Monitor, November 2011)

Immigration detention is a major plank in UK immigration policy. The UK Borders Agency claims that detention is necessary to facilitate removal and is used only as a last resort and for the shortest time possible, when removal is imminent. The Joint Committee on Human Rights report Treatment of Asylum Seekers (2007) found evidence that detention was used as a deterrent and also its application was often arbitrary.

In the second quarter of 2011, 6,337 people were detained. Of these 2,938 had claimed asylum. In total 3,850 were removed, 49 got leave to remain, 1,926 were given temporary admission, 443 were bailed. (Source: Home Office website)

Broad categories of those detained for the purpose of removal are:

A. Asylum seekers deemed failed

Most have had poor or no legal representation. Cases often have not been properly heard. Many detainees are torture victims. Disbelief, even in the face of evidence, is common. People are returned to areas of conflict such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Somalia.

B. Overstayers

People who came legally, with a visa, but at some point failed to renew it. In some cases they have been here for 20 or 30 years and have all their family here. Detention and removal contravenes their right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

C. Foreign National Offenders

These are people who have committed a crime, served their sentence and then get double punishment: immigration detention and a deportation order. Many had previously been given refugee status here or indefinite leave to remain, but lose it.

D. Detainees wanting to go home

often wait in detention for months before arrangements are made. In some cases removal is not possible, usually where those held are deemed to be stateless.

Alternatives to detention are not considered, such as allowing people the dignity of working to support themselves, as they do in Canada. Victims of torture are denied their rights even when independent medical evidence is overwhelming. Bail is refused for reasons such as ‘will abscond’, ‘is a danger to the British public’ (often for working without a permit), ‘has used deception to enter the UK so cannot be believed’– none of which are justified by the Immigration Judges. Many detainees are held for months, years in some cases.

Home Office information shows that of those people in detention at the end of June 2011, 1,061 had been in detention for less than 29 days, 516 for between 29 days and two months and 465 for between two and four months. Of the 643 remaining, 143 had been in detention for between one and two years and 74 for two years or longer.

Immigration detainees have not been charged with an offence and there is no time limit. It is purely administrative for the convenience of the UK BA.

The human cost for detainees of the whole detention ‘industry’ is unacceptable. It is well  documented that immigration detention has a devastating effect on the mental health of asylum seekers and other detainees. The many cases of self harm and attempted suicides in detention are evidence of this.

The massive financial burden for the taxpayer is another story. The average cost to detain one person for a year is about £45,000 (Hansard, Column WA67,  4/2/2010). The private security firms that run most of the eleven Removal Centres are making huge profits.

There are some 3,450 immigration detention beds. About 25,000 people are detained under immigration law each year – about the same number as imprisoned in Campsfield over the years since 1993.

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