Earlier today, Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, made a statement to the House of Commons on immigration detention and the second Stephen Shaw review. This independent review focuses on progress made by the Home Office since the publication of Shaw’s first report in 2016 which advised that the number of people detained be reduced “boldly and without delay”.

In response to the findings of the review, Home Secretary made a number of announcements, including an internal policy review of a time limit on detention and a new alternative to detention pilot for vulnerable women currently held in Yarls Wood detention centre. Our responses to these two announcements as below. We will be issuing an analysis of the second Shaw Review in due course.

On time limit “internal review” 

We welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to look at the need for a clear time limit on immigration detention, following the publication of the second Shaw Review. There is already ample evidence that shows that a time limit is necessary. The right not to be detained indefinitely is a fundamental principle. 

For such a time limit to translate into a fair and humane immigration system, it must also lead to a drastic reduction in the number of people detained and the length of their detention. Then the government can start closing down some of the detention centres. That will mean better decision-making by the Home Office, so people are not detained for longer than the time limit and are not detained repeatedly.

Alongside that reduction in the use of detention, community-based alternatives must become the norm. They help migrants to engage with the immigration process in the community and protect their rights and dignity. At the Home Office itself, deep cultural and practice change is needed. 

Until that happens, the UK will remain the only country in Europe with no time limit on immigration detention – the only place where thousands of people will spend another sleepless night locked up cells not knowing how long they will be there.

The Detention Forum and many others are calling for a 28-day time limit on detention. We know that such a change will need strong political and moral leadership. We know it will need input from migrants, civil society, lawyers and others. 

We look forward to working with the Home Secretary to start taking deprivation of liberty out of the UK’s immigration detention system. 

On alternative to detention pilot

We welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement to pilot community-based alternatives to detention, starting with vulnerable women who are currently locked up in Yarls Wood immigration detention centre. The Detention Forum has long called for alternatives to detention and we recommend the following points going forward.

Any alternatives to detention must have a clear objective of reducing the UK’s use of detention, instead of being additional part of the existing detention system. They must lead to the closure of detention centres to significantly reduce the UK’s detention estate – beyond Yarls Wood. Closing detention centres will also save a huge amount of money.

Successful alternatives to detention in the community must be based on structured, high-quality, case management delivered by suitably trained case managers. Independent case managers can offer comprehensive support to vulnerable migrants, or people with complex immigration cases, helping to resolve their immigration cases without the use of detention.

We should draw on the learning and expertise from other programmes offering alternatives to detention – not least the pilot being conducted by Detention Action. Many active discussions are taking place internally too, from which the UK should draw inspiration. And we should learn as we go, monitoring and evaluating how the programme is performing. The Home Office should bring in NGOs and practitioners, migrants and community representatives to ensure transparency, accountability and credibility of alternatives to detention.

Alternatives to detention in the community based on case management would be a big step towards a humane and fair immigration system. We look forward to working with the Home Secretary to make it a reality. 

You can read our FAQ paper on alternatives to detention here.

Our submission to the Home Affairs Committee outlining our views on alternatives to detention is here.