Immigration detention Contents


1.The Government has extensive powers to detain people for reasons of immigration control and there is currently no time limit on how long a person can be detained for such purposes. Home Office policy states that, “Detention must be used sparingly, and for the shortest period necessary”.1 In 2000, UK immigration detention centres had capacity to hold 475 people with approximately 200 held under immigration powers in prisons.2 The number of people held in detention increased as the UK immigration estate expanded. In 2010, 2,748 people were detained on average at the end of each quarter.3 In 2018, the UK immigration detention estate was one of the largest in Europe with an average of 2,204 held in detention for 2018.4 The appalling abuse of detainees by some staff at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in 2017 and the subsequent revelation of wrongful detention and deportation of Windrush citizens followed a series of historic scandals on the immigration detention estate.5

Background to our inquiry

2.In recent years there have been four major reviews specifically into the operation of immigration detention in the UK: the joint APPG on Migration and APPG on Refugees’ inquiry into the use of Immigration Detention in the UK, Stephen Shaw’s first Review into the Welfare in detention of Vulnerable Persons, Shaw’s follow-up assessment of government progress in implementing that review and the Joint Committee on Human Rights report on Immigration Detention.6 All four reports identified too many vulnerable people were detained for too long, inadequate healthcare provisions and failings in existing safeguarding policies.

3.Our inquiry was prompted by the exposure of abuse of detainees by staff in Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) and persistent reports of the inappropriate use of detention and its deleterious effect on the mental health and wellbeing of detainees.7 We took oral evidence from G4S and former G4S employee Reverend Nathan Ward, the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the current and previous Immigration Ministers and Stephen Shaw, following publication of his follow-up review. We also received many submissions of written evidence and visited Serco-run Yarl’s Wood IRC. We are grateful to all those who assisted with our inquiry. We would like to pay particular tribute to Rev. Nathan Ward for his courageous evidence on some of the serious failings within our immigration detention system, and to those immigration detainees who gave evidence anonymously about their experiences in detention.

The cost of immigration detention

4.In the quarter ending December 2018 it cost, on average, £87.71 per day to hold someone in detention.8 The Home Office Annual Report and Accounts for 2017–18 recorded that detention cost the Government £108 million in that financial year.9

Report structure

5.This report is the Committee’s first substantial report on immigration detention in the UK.10

6.The report details our key concerns with the current UK immigration detention system, specifically the treatment of vulnerable people in detention. It focusses on the overall UK immigration detention process; recommendations made by Stephen Shaw in his two independent reports on immigration detention; how the Home Office currently identifies and addresses the welfare of vulnerable people in immigration detention; the management and independent oversight mechanisms of Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) and the detrimental impact of prolonged periods of detention on individuals’ wellbeing.

7.In the wake of the deplorable abuse scandal at Brook House IRC in 2017, chapter 6 explores some of the wide-ranging challenges and failings that exist in immigration removal centres across the UK, which if left unaddressed could lead to yet more catastrophic abuses taking place under the Government’s watch. These include a lack of resources (understaffing, adequacy of healthcare and legal advice provision) and operational issues such as effective complaint mechanisms, organisational culture, and the effectiveness of the formal IRC oversight mechanisms currently in place.

8.On 7 February 2019, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a report on Immigration Detention. The report examined the current UK immigration detention system and focussed on a number of issues that our Committee has also addressed.11 We have taken account of that Committee’s views in developing our own conclusions and recommendations.

2 A Matter of Routine, Amnesty International (UK) report, 2017

3 Home Office immigration statistics, year ending December 2018, Table dt_13_q. The most recent data is for Q4 2018.

4 Ibid; Data includes immigration detainees held under immigration powers in HM Prisons.

5 On 4 September 2017, a BBC Panorama documentary exposed the abuse of detainees by staff in Brook House IRC which is currently managed by G4S; the Windrush scandal was uncovered by an extensive investigation by The Guardian newspaper revealing that many children of the Windrush generation were being wrongly detained and deported: Amelia Gentleman on Windrush: ‘I’ve felt like an immigration case worker’ 20 April 2018; various newspapers have reported on successive immigration removal centre scandals including at Yarl’s Wood IRC and Harmondsworth IRC : Yarl’s Wood holding vulnerable women for too long, say monitors, The Guardian, 9 June 2015, Yarl’s Wood: Years of misery and controversy BBC News, 10 June 2015 and Immigration detainee ‘died in handcuffs’, BBC News, 20 January 2014.

6 The Joint APPG on Migration and APPG on Refugees, Inquiry into the use of Immigration Detention 2015; Stephen Shaw’s Review into the Welfare in detention of Vulnerable Persons January 2016, Stephen Shaw’s Assessment of government progress in implementing the report on the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons July 2018; and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Immigration Detention, Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19 HC 1484, HL Paper 278 published 7 February 2019; Previous to these, numerous inquiries and reports were published on the operation of the current immigration and asylum system as well as immigration detention, for example in 2006–07, the Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed concern in its report on the Treatment of Asylum Seekers [HL Paper 134/HC790 ]on the detention of asylum seekers, “that there is currently no. maximum time limit [on immigration detention]”. The Committee recommended a time limit of 28 days.

7 On 4 September 2017, a BBC Panorama documentary exposed the abuse of detainees by staff in Brook House IRC. Brook House is currently managed by G4S.On 4 May 2018, the Government announced the extension of G4S’ contract to run Brook House for another two years.

8 Home Office Immigration Enforcement data, Q4 2018, DT_02: Average cost per day to hold an individual in immigration detention.

9 Home Office, Annual Report and Accounts 2017–18, HC1136; According to Bail for Immigration Detainees, ‘detention costs’ do not include the administrative costs, the cost of opposing bail and other legal costs which could amount to thousands of pounds per detainee, nor do they include the costs the Home Office has paid out in compensation for unlawful detention.

10 The Work of the Immigration Directorates, Q3 2015 – this report referenced the oral evidence that Stephen Shaw gave to our predecessor committee on Tuesday 9 February 2016.

11 The Joint Committee on Human Rights, Immigration Detention, Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 1484 HL Paper 278 Published on 7 February 2019.

Published: 21 March 2019