How much do you really know about UK immigration detention centres?

Vulnerable people given limitless sentences in grim circumstances

Photo by Ggia - Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Ggia – Wikimedia Commons

Reports of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea have brought the tragic plight of immigrants to the top of the news once again.

We have not written much about immigration detention centres in the past, but all that is about to change. We have linked with Elaine Allaby’s Detention Centres Info blog to bring you all the latest news.

We begin with an introduction to the subject with all the important facts and stats you need to know.

How many migrants does the UK detain? 

About 3,000 at any one time, or 30,000 in one year, across 13 centres.

Who can be detained? 

Anyone who’s not British. Recent detainees have included an 84 year old Canadian Alzheimer’s sufferer (who died in handcuffs), pregnant women, children, and torture victims.

This is despite Home Office guidance, which says that people who fall into these categories should not be detained unless in exceptional circumstances.

How long can people be detained for? 

Indefinitely. The UK is the only country in the EU not to have a time limit on how long people can be detained.

In September 2014 one person had been held for almost five years, and six more people for over 1,000 days. In the first quarter of 2015, 488 people had been held for over six months. By contrast, Spain and Portugal, have a limit of 60 days each.

In 2008 the UK opted out of the EU Returns Directive, which imposes a time limit of six months with a provisional extra 12 months for uncooperative detainees. The only other country to opt out was Ireland, which has its own self-imposed limit of 21 days.

What are the detention centres like? 

Much like prison, but as detainees are not serving a sentence, there’s no time limit to how long they can be held for.

Detainees can’t leave and visits are restricted. The Institute of Race Relations has documented 22 deaths in UK immigration detention centres so far. Ten of these were suicides and one was a murder. At least five people have died shortly after release from detention.

In September 2014, 425 people were held in prisons solely under Immigration Act powers (i.e. not for committing a crime).

Although the detention centres’ total capacity is over 4,000 and there are rarely more than 3,500 detainees held in the centres at any one time.

Here is Channel 4’s investigation into Yarl’s Wood, which is run by Serco.

How much do detention centres cost? 

A total of £164.4 million in 2013-2014, or £97 per person per day in late 2014.

Roughly £5 million a year since 2011 in unlawful detention lawsuit payouts (not including legal fees).

Who runs detention centres? 

Nine out of the 13 centres are managed privately for profit by the companies Mitie, Serco, G4S, GEO Group and Tascor. The rest are run by Her Majesty’s Prison Services.

What are people detained for? 

Detention centres are used to deport people or to hold people while the government decides whether or not to deport them. Other reasons given for detaining people are:

  • risk of harm to that person or to the public if they were released
  • reason to believe the person would abscond if released
  • if someone has claimed asylum on arrival and the government thinks it can process their claim quickly (a system known as the Detained Fast Track).

Who decides who is detained?

UK border officials and immigration officers can use the above reasons to detain someone at any point including:

  • when they arrive in the UK
  • when they report to an immigration officer
  • once a decision to remove someone has been issued
  • when a person is arrested by a police officer
  • when their prison sentence is over.

There is no official judicial procedure that must be followed in order to detain someone.

Are there alternatives to detention centres?

Yes, there are alternatives such as:

  • Electronic tagging.
  • Issuing people with reporting requirements (where they have to show up and declare themselves to the immigration authorities at regular intervals).
  • Caseworker systems, such as those successfully piloted in Sweden and Australia.

A recent parliamentary report found that among the 60,000 people in Britain currently issued with reporting requirements, at an annual cost of around £8.6 million, there is a 95 per cent compliance rate.

In early 2015, just over 500 people were subject to electronic monitoring at a cost of £515 per month, which the UK Immigration Minister reportedly described as “high cost”, although it represents only one-sixth of the cost of detention.

More on detention centres soon

We will be running more posts on UK immigration detention centre’s from Elaine’s blog soon. Please let us know if there’s anything we’ve missed or anything you’d like to add.

Correction: This post originally stated that at 60 days Spain and Portugal had the longest detention periods in the EU outside the UK. While the detention period is correct, this is not the longest detention period in the EU.

This post has drawn heavily from facts and stats published by the Migration Observatory, the Parliamentary Detention Inquiry panel, and Detention Action.

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