‘For the country and for those we detain, we cannot go on as we are.’ The Detention Inquiry Panel calls for an end to indefinite detention of migrants

The joint All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into the immigration detention system[i], chaired by a former Minister, Sarah Teather MP, has concluded that ‘we cannot go on as we are.’ The inquiry report,[ii] published today calls for radical reform of the system, starting with the introduction of a time limit of 28 days on immigration detention.

“At a time when the topic of immigration is used as a political football by all parties, it is significant that this cross-party panel unanimously agreed that the current immigration detention system is ‘expensive, ineffective and unjust’ and felt compelled to call for such a radical change.” said Eiri Ohtani of the Detention Forum[iii].

The panel examined of over 180 written submissions and heard evidence from 26 witnesses, including current and former detainees. In contrast to the review of care for mentally ill migrants in immigration detention, recently announced by the Home Secretary, Theresa May[iv], the inquiry’s report amounts to a forthright rejection of a focus on ‘tinkering’ to make immigration detention less harmful. It concludes that reform must amount to a ‘wholesale change in culture, towards community models of engagement and better caseworking and decision-making.’ It also recommends that the UK looks to good practices from other countries which operate much more effective community-based alternatives to detention programmes[v] in order to reduce its use of detention.

The UK quarterly immigration statistics released last week shows that during 2014, 30,365 people entered detention, a decrease of 0.001% on 2013, but an increase of 17.22% since 2010. At the end of 2014, 397 had been detained for more than 6 months, 108 for longer than a year, and 18 for longer than 2 years. Many who leave detention are released back to community. In 2014, of 29,655 people who left detention, only 52% percent were removed from the UK, down from 64% in 2010.

The size of the UK detention estate increased drastically last year, with the opening of The Verne, in Dorset, with 580 bed spaces. In addition, the Home Office is planning to double the size of Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire, although a legal action by local campaigning groups last month has delayed the planning application process[vi]. The cost of running the immigration estate in 2013/14 was £164.4m; the figure is set to rise for 2014/15 if the expansion goes ahead.

Eiri Ohtani of the Detention Forum said “The particular stain on the UK’s international reputation has been the absence of a time limit on immigration detention. The UK is the only country in Europe which detains migrants indefinitely[vii]. Recently, as part of the City of Sanctuary movement, hundreds of groups signed the Birmingham Declaration[viii] demanding that no one should be locked up indefinitely. An influential community-organising group, Citizens UK, is now asking all candidates standing for the next General Election to commit to ending indefinite detention[ix]. With more people joining us, it will become increasingly difficult for politicians ignore this growing civil society movement.”

“The UK’s detention system has been notoriously resistant to change, despite mounting criticism from human rights NGOs, the courts and domestic and international monitoring bodies. The panel’s recommendation that the incoming Government forms a working group with civil society organisations to implement necessary changes identified by this inquiry is certainly a step in the right direction in restoring UK’s proud tradition of justice.”


For more information, please call Eiri Ohtani on 07412 126 706 or email detentionforum@gmail.com for further information.

[i] In July 2014, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration launched an inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK. The Panel consisted of members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They were:

Paul Blomfield MP (Labour), Vice-Chair of the Inquiry, David Burrowes MP (Conservative), Jon Cruddas MP (Labour), Richard Fuller MP (Conservative), Baroness Sally Hamwee (Liberal Democrat), Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat), Baroness Ruth Lister (Labour), Lord Anthony Lloyd (Crossbench), Lord David Ramsbotham (Crossbench), Caroline Spelman MP (Conservative), Sarah Teather MP (Liberal Democrat), Chair of the Inquiry.

[ii] The Report of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom A Joint Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees & the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration (March 2015), available at http://detentioninquiry.com/2015/03/03/time-for-a-time-limit-parliamentarians-call-for-a-28-day-maximum-time-limit-on-immigration-detention-to-be-introduced/

[iii] The Detention Forum is a network of NGOs challenging the UK’s use of immigration detention. For more information, visit our website at www.detentionforum.org.uk

[iv] The review was announced on 9th February 2015. Its terms of reference states that the review’s remit excludes decisions to detain. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/home-secretary-announces-independent-review-of-welfare-in-detention

[v] The International Detention Coalition and the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees, both global experts on community-based alternatives to detention programmes, gave oral evidence to the inquiry panel on 18th November 2014. The transcript is available at https://detentioninquiry.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/third-evidence-session-transcript.pdf

[vi] https://closecampsfield.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/decision-on-campsfield-expansion-deferred/

[vii] Examples of the length of a time limit on immigration detention: Ireland 21 days, France 45 days, Belgium 2 months, Portugal 60 days, Spain 60 days, Taiwan 15 days, Georgia 90 days and USA 180 days (Source The Report of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom A Joint Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees & the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration (March 2015) page 16)

[viii] https://sanctuarysummit2014.wordpress.com/the-birmingham-declaration/

[ix] http://www.citizensuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Citizens-UK-Manifesto-2015.pdf