The Home Office’s power to detain was established by the 1971 Immigration Act and detention is now a significant part of UK immigration law. The UK has one of largest immigration detention systems in Europe and is the only country within Europe with no statutory time limit for detention. Foreign nationals can be detained at any time. Some are detained on arrival in the UK whilst others can be held when trying to renew their visas.
In 2000, detention centres could hold 475 people; capacity has now expanded to about 3,500 at any one time. In the year ending March 2017, 26,541 individuals were detained and on average more than 25,000 migrants pass through the UK’s detention centres each year. Less than a quarter of those held in the eight centres and two ‘short-term holding facilities’ across the UK have access to legal representation, and there is no time limit on their loss of liberty, meaning that some may stay detained for several years.
These detention centres are often described as having conditions far worse than actual prisons. Some of the centres confine people to their rooms for 13 hours a day and although phones are permitted, this is only to make calls. Many detainees live in fear of meeting the Home Office officials inside these detention centres, as they could pressure them to opt for voluntary return to their home countries, even if their lives could be at risk there.
The Home Office has paid a number of private contractors hundreds of millions of pounds to run the UK’s immigration removal centres. The Home Office’s annual report and accounts for 2017-18 state that detention costs in the UK were £108 million for the year ending 31 March 2018. The Shaw report, commissioned on behalf of the Home Secretary and published in January 2016, reviewed Home Office policies and operating procedures affecting immigration detainees and concluded that it cost £85.92 per day to detain a single detainee. Although detention is considered a significant part of the UK’s immigration enforcement policy, Home Office statistics show that less than 50% of detainees are actually removed from the UK, and from this number around 55% are released back into the community. Many detainees say they will never recover from their experience of UK immigration detention.
Is this the right solution for the UK?
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