In the wake of Brexit, while the issue of immigration prevails in national debates, the damage of the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies, designed to deter illegal immigrants in the UK, are being put under increased scrutiny. The hunger strike of detainees in Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre in late February has captured media and public attention, while detention also came to the forefront of discussions after the Windrush scandal. The UK Immigration detention is one of the main areas of contention in the British asylum system. Why is it broken and how should it change?
While detention seems to be a convenient option for the state to manage migration, it is a costly solution. It also has damaging effects on detainees, as well as on the legitimacy of the UK’s immigration system. Every year, around 30,000 people pass through immigration removal centres (IRCs), also known as detention centres.
Cases of abuse have increasingly occupied the mediatic space with reports of charges over misconducts in places such as Brook House, an IRC near Gatwick Airport. For instance, detainees taking part in February’s hunger strike were protesting about the poor conditions in detention, but also the greater issue of the UK’s much-criticised indefinite detention. The strike started with a group of roughly 40 women, and numbers quickly swelled to over 120 by March. However, results remain to be seen. More recently, a survey has re-emphasised the urgency to tackle the deplorable situation in UK detention centres, where almost 56% of the study’s sample were either suicidal, seriously ill or victims of torture. This suggests that Home Office guidelines on detention have been breached, since such individuals are only supposed to be detained in extreme cases.
Immigration concerns are considered to be a main driving force behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016. They were a contentious and spotlighted issue during the Brexit referendum. In the following months, the government’s post-Brexit programme on migration will be watched closely by both national and international parties. This moment may also constitute an opportunity for deeper understanding and reflection on alternatives to the costly and damaging immigration detention system. As the new Immigration Bill is to be set out next year, detention will feature prominently in the framework of immigration law enforcement and related policy, and is inextricably entwined with the UK’s border and immigration regime and rationale.
As the largest immigration detention estate in Europe, the UK is also the only European country where indefinite detention is declared legal. However, as expressed by Shaw’s report to the Home Office, there is still too little known and little understood on the political, media and public understanding of institutions and processes linked to the immigration detention. In this regard, “public policy is not assisted when there is so little informed interest and debate”, according to Shaw.
To fill these gaps, Agora’s Migration Programme has undertaken an investigation to shed light on different aspects of UK detention policy. This is our series entitled: ‘UK detention policy: time to change a broken system’.
Our series starts with an overview of the UK’s detention policy and an outline of the major points of contention regarding this piece of government policy, which not only include its financial cost, but also the lack of detention time limit and claims of mistreatment. Our second blog article sheds light on the privatisation of immigration detention in the UK, and explores why outsourcing the immigration detention system makes accountability impossible. Our third article looks at the legal challenge of the immigration detention. It is followed by a blog on the media representation of detention centres in the UK. Our following blog article provides an overview of UK’s detention policies in comparison with EU countries. Our final article, for now, resumes the recommendations and sketches lines of future policies.
Jennifer Ngo holds a Masters degree from SOAS University and is a contributor to the Agora Migration programme. Nina Khamsy is the head of the Migration programme at Agora.