Immigration detention in the UK
There are nine detention centres in the UK, several short-term holding facilities, one centre for detaining families with children, in addition to the many migrants who are held under immigration powers in prisons. These detention centres are geographically and physically hard to access. They are usually a long way out of the town or city nearest to them, and a rigorous security check is needed to go inside, with many restrictions placed on visitors.
Nearly 30,000 migrants enter detention every year. That figure is rising, with 3,418 migrants detained in detention centres and prisons and a total of 137 people were detained longer than a year as of 30 June 2015. People are detained without a time limit, for months, sometimes even years. It is harmful and expensive. It robs people of their dignity, spirit and lives.
“I don’t know when I’m going to get back to my life.
Could be any time, could be five years.
We don’t know. That’s what’s killing us here.”
Ahmed, Iran, detained for over a year.
Unlocking Detention is a ‘virtual tour’ of the UK’s immigration detention estate – and of the impact of detention on communities across the UK. Each week, we ‘visit’ another of the UK’s detention centres and we hear from people who have been detained there (and who still are), volunteer visitors to that centre, NGOs and campaigners who are involved with challenging immigration detention, and the families, friends, neighbours and communities over whom detention casts its long shadows. The tour runs from 10 October to 18 December 2016.
The idea for Unlocking Detention came from the fact that many of the UK’s detention centres are geographically very remote and that the injustice of immigration detention was being kept hidden away – “out of sight, out of mind”.
People held in immigration detention are isolated and hard-to-reach. People may be held in a centre (in prison-like conditions) hundreds of miles from where they were living, and many miles from any city, with no public transport to get there to visit. The system is operated to isolate people – and detention as a policy issue is very remote from the minds of most members of the public and, until recently, from the minds of most of our elected representatives.
This means most people have no idea what immigration detention is, what it’s like, who is it for and why it’s such an outrage. For such a grave human rights issue, detention has been a remarkably hidden topic – over the last 20 years since the first detention centre opened, the detention estate has massively expanded and until relatively recently, with almost no public debate or political scrutiny.
Because of this lack of awareness, detention became accepted as a “normal”, integral part of the system of immigration administration and enforcement. Unlocking Detention seeks to change this – through the voices of those at risk of detention, those living with the scars of previous detention, communities damaged by detention, and all those seeking to change it. Although Unlocking Detention uses a geographical tour as a starting point, the project goes beyond the location and operation of detention centres, shining a light on all aspects of detention, and its place in the system of immigration control.