Launch of new Amnesty report on immigration detention


On Wednesday night Amnesty UK officially launched their new report ‘A matter of routine – the use of immigration detention in the UK’. In doing so, they have further strengthened the consensus – including most major political parties, human rights groups, the HM Inspectorate of Prisons –  of those condemning and calling for serious change to the UK’s indefinite immigration detention system.

[Amnesty’s] research examined Home Office policy and guidance documents on the use of immigration detention; interviewed detainees, their family members and lawyers that represent them; and examined Home Office detention casework files, obtained through ex-detainees who were pursuing legal challenges for what they alleged was unlawful detention. – Amnesty Report

The UK operates a vast and arbitrary system of detaining migrants, with 30,000 people passing through each year. The UK is the only country in Europe to have no time limit – people are held for days, months and years – and has very few safeguards in practice. It has been demonstrated time and time again as a source of harm.

 While detention is inherently invasive and distressing, indefinite detention is even more so. Interviewees regularly cited the uncertainty of indefinite detention, and their vicarious exposure to the prolonged detention of others, as a major source of the harm they experienced. – Amnesty Report

Amnesty’s report highlights the routine nature of detention, and how the Home Office use it as a first – rather than last – resort. It goes on to explore the harm being done to detainees’ mental and physical health, and the often flawed decision-making by officials. They found

“that once detention has commenced, it is in many cases maintained as a matter of default or convenience. […]Casework often seeks to justify continued detention unless release cannot be avoided – reversing the appropriate position of detention as the last resort.”

At the report launch, a representative for the Survivors Speak Out group labeled detention “a sharp barbed wire that prevents you from moving on” and highlighted that the safeguards in new ‘Adults at risk’ policy are not working. This point was echoed by Paul Blomfield MP who noted that many of the reforms that the government had agreed to had not been carried out. Yet, as Michael from experts by experience group Freed Voices stated:

“There is consensus on ending indefinite immigration detention. Now we need action.”

Amnesty’s report makes a series of recommendations to the Home Office, the UK government, and to parliamentarians. In line with the Shaw review, the Home Office is asked to significantly reduce the use of immigration detention (by detaining less people and closing more centres), to revert to emphasising that detention is only to be used as a last resort, and that alternative non-custodial measures should always be considered first, and given preference, before resorting to detention. In step with research released from the University of Bristol this week, they also call on the Home Office to “take steps to fulfill the legal duty to treat the best interests of all children affected by immigration detention decisions as a primary consideration.”

The UK government is called on to implement “a universally applicable statutory time limit for detention, short enough to constitute an effective constraint on its use”, and into introduce automatic judicial oversight. Parliamentarians are called on to champion these recommendations, as well as launching an inquiry into detention (which would be broader than the scope of Shaw).


On reaching the UK, people face a hostile environment. Without help, many will be forcibly sent back to the wars, persecution and misery they have fled.

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