[ 29. Apr 2007 ]

Detention of Asylum Seekers and Immigrants in the UK

This article by a Human Rights activist and asylum seeker in the UK criticise the use of internment and detention of asylum seekers and immigrants.


I am an asylum seeker who has experienced arbitrary detention in the UK for immigration purposes. I am also a national of a former British colony, where internment and detention were used to control the freedom movement of whole communities. I have strong criticisms of the use of internment and detention of a particular group of people as a form of control or punishment without any regard for justice.

In the EU countries there are approximately 174 purpose-built detention centres for asylum seekers and immigrants. The camps are now being extended to North African countries, and plans are underway to put together a 'rapidly deployable force of border guards which would assist countries facing an immigration emergency'. After the deal was struck on Friday 1st April 2007, the EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said that, 'it is the best ever example of European solidarity'.

In the UK, there are ten such detention centres, detaining all kinds of immigrants who are deemed 'illegal', and those whose asylum cases are in the process of being determined. These centres of barbarism keep men, women and children. There is no limit to how long one can be detained, and from a survey I compiled during the time I was detained, I can report that one man had spent five years within the detention estate! There is no legal assistance for the detainees once they are considered 'failed', and there is no independent judicial oversight of those detained. Some are detained for a few days until they are removed, but those who resist removal cannot be removed for administrative reasons such as lack of travel documents. Those with pending cases remain in detention for months, or even years.

According to the Home office, certain people should not be detained. These include children, pregnant women, torture victims, and the physically and mentally ill. But many who fall into these categories are detained anyway. Due to the nature of the detention, arbitrary and indefinite, most detainees develop mental health problems. Many detainees have also experienced torture or ill-treatment in their home countries before they fled, or have very horrific journeys to the UK. The Government refuses to acknowledge this, to the extent that UK Immigration Courts dismiss rape and sexual violence as 'fabrications'. This explains the daily self-harm, hunger strikes and attempted and actual suicides. In the last five years there have been 15 suicides in UK immigration detention centres.

Seven out of ten of these (...) camps are run privately for profit. Since Labour came to power in 1997 the capacity of approximately 200 detention places has been increased to just short of 3000, which plans to increase this number by 4000 - all to be run privately for profit. It has recently been reported in the media that there are Government plans to offer the British public shares in the detention centre industry. This would take place under a 'buy to let' scheme, providing a steady guaranteed dividend of 'rental income' to the investor, from a system with no apparent shortage of prisoners. This would make the British public not simply complicit in the system of detention, but actual profiteers of this barbarism.

At a cost of £1,230 a week per detainee (the price for three nights at a top London hotel), there is no logic or moral argument for spending such amounts of money on the misery of a detainee and someone else's profit. The only argument is xenophobia, racism, profit, and the need for a deterrent for potential migrants. In the last four years, the Government paid private companies close to £1Billion to manage detention centres. This excludes the cost of rounding up detainees, the cost of deportation flights and the cost of escorts for forced removals.

Inaccurate media stories often have direct consequences on how the public perceives the immigrant. Sections of the media from across the political spectrum have misrepresented asylum seekers as a homogeneous group of 'scroungers', a drain on state resources, a threat to British identity and even a danger to health and security. Politicians led by the tabloid agenda have taken the baton, and the formulation and implementation of Government policy on asylum and immigration is taking the same path. Just recently, John Reid, the Home Secretary, told BBC Breakfast: 'It is unfair that foreigners come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits, steal our services like the NHS and undermine the minimum wage by working [...] year on year, we are going to make it even more difficult for them to do that.' And he told BBC Radio Five Live: "We are now throwing out more asylum seekers - failed asylum seekers - than ever before',

Is detention is a necessary evil? Should it be allowed to continue in your country, in your name, your taxes, and your conscience? Should you be complicit, or should actively oppose it?

This article was published first @ :: UK indymedia. The author is a Human Rights activist and asylum seeker. He was short-listed for the Liberty & Justice 2006 Human Rights Award for fighting for his own asylum case while detained, and for helping and empowering others in doing the same. Email: georgemwas (at)