The Implications for Immigration Detention? The Government Agenda on Immigration and Quarterly Immigration statistics, January to March 2015. (26 May 2015)

On 21st May, David Cameron set out his intentions for immediate legislation on Immigration, unshackled from the restraining influence of Coalition with the Lib Dems. The same day, we also saw the release of the latest official immigration statistics from National Statistics, covering the period January to March 2015 which you can find here. .  You can also find the data tables here.

Both the statistics and David Cameron’s speech demonstrate that all those who care about civil liberties must hold Home Office ministers to account. We must also continue to urge all politicians to make good on their pre-election pledges to limit the use of immigration detention and use more humane, effective and cheaper alternatives as set out in the final report of the first-ever cross-party parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration.

The new Immigration Bill – and immigration detention?

The Prime Minister promised a “Far-reaching Immigration Bill will be in the first Queen’s Speech”, comprising “A ‘whole of government’ approach to clamp down on illegal immigration”, including a “new offence of illegal working”. He continued “Our one nation approach will be tougher, fairer and faster. With this Immigration Bill, and our wider action, we will put an end to houses packed full of illegal workers; stop illegal migrants stalling deportation; give British people the skills to do the jobs Britain needs. We are for working people. For them, we will control and reduce immigration.” “That means…dealing with those who shouldn’t be here by rooting out illegal immigrants and bolstering deportations.”

The Prime Minister says his Government’s new legislation will contain the following:

  • new powers for councils to crackdown on unscrupulous landlords and evict illegal workers/migrants more quickly
  • making all banks check bank accounts against databases of people here illegally
  • extending the successful deport, first appeal later measures to all immigration appeals and judicial reviews to stop people frustrating the system
  • satellite tracking tags for foreign criminals awaiting deportation so we always know exactly where they are
  • creating a new offence of illegal working to close the loophole which means people who are here illegally can’t benefit from working and police can seize wages as proceeds of crime
  • making it an offence for businesses and recruitment agencies to recruit abroad without advertising in the UK
  • creating a new labour market enforcement agency to crack down on the worst cases of labour market exploitation

The implications for immigration detention, the Government’s response to the parliamentary inquiry report or their intention behind the ongoing Shaw Review, are not spelt out in the Prime Minister’s speech but the message is clear – there will be an even more “hostile environment” for non-citizens in the UK. The Government will be, however, insistently reminded of Lord Bates’ statement in Parliament on 26th March 2015: “As a statement of intent…we do not, as a direction of travel, want to see growth in the numbers of people in the immigration detention centres”. It is down to us advocates to find space for manoeuvre in the Immigration Bill debate and other opportunities for influencing so that Lord Bates’ statement does not become obsolete.

Latest quarterly immigration statistics, January to March 2015 – another bleak picture for immigration detention

The latest official quarterly immigration statistics (National Statistics) continue to show a disturbing trend in the increasing use of detention, in both volume and length.

More people in immigration detention than ever

A total of 3,483 people found themselves in immigration detention as of 31 March 2015, an increase of 16% (492 people) since 31 March 2014 and the highest number of the last five years.

A total number of people entering detention last year (30,902) was also the highest of the last five year.

Year                                                Entering detention        Leaving detention       In detention (1)

Year ending March 2011                26,033                                   26,172                                   2,654

Year ending March 2012                27,594                                   27,197                                   3,034

Year ending March 2013                28,732                                   28,773                                   2,853

Year ending March 2014                30,109                                   29,786                                   2,991

Year ending March 2015                30,902                                   30,313                                   3,483

Change: latest year                         +793                                      +527                                      +492

Percentage change                         +3%                                       +2%                                       +16%

(1) The “in detention” figures are as at the end of March in each year

Worryingly, the official statistics comment on the increased numbers in detention due to the opening of The Verne, and then say: “The increase could possibly have been greater; however, an outbreak of an infectious illness at Morton Hall IRC, meant this facility was not used to its full capacity.”

The statistical release also shows the growing ineffectiveness of increased detention facilitating the Government agenda of increasing removal. It states: “There was a continuing decline in the proportion of detainees being removed on leaving detention from the peak in the year ending March 2011 of 64% to 51% in the year ending March 2015. Conversely, there was an increase in the proportion of detainees granted temporary admission or release, from 28% to 39% over the same period.”

During 2015 Q1, of the total of 7,516 people leaving detention, only in 3,376 cases the reason for leaving detention was to be removed from the UK. The rest (3,756 people, 50% of those leaving detention) returned to their community after detention, raising the question of why they were detained in the first place.

Increasing numbers of children detained

The last four quarters have shown an increase in the numbers of children held in immigration detention – particularly at the family unit within Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre – as the following National Statistics graph makes clear:

The latest quarterly statistics release comments as follows: “In the first quarter of 2015, 41 children entered detention, compared with 19 in the first quarter of 2014 and 44 in the first quarter of 2013. Of the 43 children leaving detention in the first quarter of 2015, 23 were removed from the UK and 20 were granted temporary admission or release. Of those leaving detention, 29 had been detained for less than four days, 11 for between four and seven days and 3 for between 15 and 28 days.”

Nevertheless, the number of children detained dropped dramatically after the Coalition Government ended detention of children at Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre in 2010.

Continuing increase in numbers of people in long periods of detention

Another troubling trend in the latest figures is the increasing number of people in detention for long periods of time – somewhat disguised in the presentation of statistics by foregrounding the increase in numbers of people staying for a short period. Putting together our own chart from the official statistics we see the following trends over the last five quarters. As you will see, there has been a sustained and startling increase in those staying longer than four months. At the end of Q1 in 2015, a total of 153 people were detained longer than a year.

graph May 2015

People in immigration detention in prisons

The official statistics have only recently, in the last three quarters, started providing data on the number of people held in immigration detention in prisons. The statistics show a marginal decrease since last year.

As at 30 March 2015 there were 374 detainees held in prison establishments in England and Wales solely under immigration powers. This compares with 394 detainees at 15 December 2014 and 394 detainees at 29 September 2014.

Enforced removals and voluntary departures

Despite an increasing use of immigration detention, the number of enforced removals has not increased accordingly. Also of relevance is the recent sharp decline, against the previous long-term trend, in the number of voluntary departures – although the number of enforced removals does not seem to have increased commensurately. Some of this may be due to the retrospective nature of data-matching exercises, the figures on voluntary departures are usually subject to upward revision – but there is nothing in the official figures to suggest this would fully account for the trend.

By the Detention Forum team