Immigration detention in the United Kingdom

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Immigration detention in the United Kingdom is the policy of the United Kingdom government in holding individuals suspected of visa violations, illegal entry or unauthorised arrival, and those subject to deportation and removal in detention until a decision is made by immigration authorities to grant a visa and release them into the community, or to repatriate them to their country of departure.

The British Home Office has a number of detention centres, including, As of January 2015, 11 designated Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), four designated Residential and Short Term Holding Facilities and one Non Residential Short Term Holding Facility. Four of the IRCs are managed by the Prison Service and the others are outsourced to private companies including Mitie, GEO Group, G4S and Serco. People can be detained under Immigration Act powers for a number of reasons. The largest category of detainees is people who have claimed asylum. Other people include those detained awaiting determination of their right to entry to the UK, people who have been refused permission to enter and are awaiting removal, people who have overstayed the expiry of their visas or have not complied with their visa terms, and people lacking the required documentation to live in the UK.[1]

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 formally changed the name of "detention centres" to "removal centres".

Removal centres[edit]

The UK removal centres are:

Additionally, some prisons detain migrants or asylum seekers purely under Immigration Act powers, usually if they have been serving a prison sentence which has expired. There are also four short term holding facilities in Manchester, Dover, Harwich and Colnbrook.


The British government has been given powers to detain asylum seekers and migrants at any stage of the asylum process.[12] The use of asylum has increased with the introduction of the process of 'fast track', or the procedure by which the Immigration Service assess asylum claims which are capable of being decided quickly. Fast-tracking takes place in Oakington Reception Centre, Harmondsworth and Yarl's Wood.

There are three situations in which it is lawful to detain an asylum seeker or migrant.

  1. To fast track their claim
  2. If the government has reasonable grounds to believe that the asylum seeker or migrant will abscond or not abide by the conditions of entry.
  3. If the asylum seeker or migrant is about to be deported.

Figures published for January – March 2008 by the Home Office[13] revealed the following:

  • 2305 people were detained in 'removal centres' in the UK under Immigration Act powers (this figure excludes those held in prisons)
  • 1980 immigration detainees were male
  • 35 children under 18 were detained
  • 1640 detainees had claimed asylum at some stage

Once detained it is possible to apply for bail. It is preferable but not necessary to provide a surety and conditions will be provided, usually reporting, if bail is granted. There is legal aid for representation at bail hearings and the organisation Bail for Immigration Detainees provides help and assistance for those subject to detention to represent themselves.[14]

Since summer 2005 there has been an increase in the detention of foreign nationals since the Charles Clarke scandal which revealed that there were a number of foreign nationals who had committed crimes and had not been deported at the end of their sentence.[15]

Criticism of immigration detention focuses on comparisons with prison conditions[16] in which persons are kept though they have never been convicted of a crime, the lack of judicial oversight, and on the lengthy bureaucratic delays that often prevent a person from being released, particularly when there is no evidence that the detainee will present a harm or a burden to society if allowed to remain at large while their situation is examined.

Recently, the conditions of detention centres have been criticised, by the United Kingdom Inspector of Prisons.[17]

The Tinsley Model[edit]

In 1996 Immigration Detention Centre Tinsley House was commissioned. It was the first purpose-built immigration detention facility in the United Kingdom and was initially managed by the British subsidiary of the American Wackenhut Corporation.

The original senior management of Tinsley House, specifically the centre director and its operations manager, pioneered an adapted version of Wackenhut's philosophy of ‘Dynamic Security’ which promoted a regime of caring custody emphasising positive relations between staff and detainees and encouraging the respectful and sensitive handling of all detainee related issues.

This concerned approach towards detainee management was quickly embraced by the centre's chaplain who reinforced the existing commitment to caring custody through the creation of specialised training programmes for the centre's staff and by increasing the size and diversity of the centre's chaplaincy team.

With the active support of the centre's senior management, the Tinsley House chaplaincy set about the task of addressing in detail the dietary, cultural, religious and social needs of the centre's population inviting a variety of religious ministers and representatives of cultural groups to attend the centre to provide pastoral support. Tinsley House became the first detention centre in the United Kingdom to operate a comprehensive regime of religious and cultural observance and to operate a diversity of permanent religious facilities.

The attention to religious and cultural needs combined with an overt commitment on the part of the detention centre staff towards treating those in their custody with care and sensitivity began to impact the environment and operations at Tinsley House. Detainees would write messages of appreciation to members of staff noting their efforts of assistance and staff would regularly form respectful friendships with those in their charge.

The product of this regime, which became known as the ‘Tinsley Model’ was to result in an environment which, during its first decade of operations, incurred no incidence of death, riot or disturbance; a performance which remains unmatched in the history of the UK Immigration Service.

The ‘Tinsley Model’ attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales as well as numerous religious and political leaders and was cited as being a graphic example of the effectiveness of ‘caring custody’.[18]

In December 2001 the senior chaplain of Tinsley House authored a report to the Home Secretary detailing the essence of the Tinsley Model, recording its positive effects and outlining how this regime might be exported throughout the Immigration estate. The report was signed by sixteen bishops, four leading Muslim clerics, representatives of the Sikh and Hindu communities, four members of the House of Lords and the Member of Parliament for Crawley.

The Home Office response to this proposal was to pass it to the Immigration Minister who forwarded it to the head of the Immigration Service who in turn requested that it be actioned by the director responsible for Detention Operations. The Detention Operations department of the Immigration Service did not accept the findings of the report and expressed their displeasure at the centre's operating company (now Group 4) ‘interfering’ in government policy issues and which resulted in the suspension of the centre's senior chaplain.

A month after this report was published; the newest facility in the Immigration estate, the £40 million Yarl's Wood detention centre near Bedford was largely destroyed by fire as a result of altercations between staff and detainees.

With a lack of support from the Immigration Service, the introduction of Group 4's management style (with its largely prison based philosophies) and the departure of the centre's original management team, the ‘Tinsley Model’ became increasingly difficult to maintain resulting in a decline in the centre's previously caring regime.

In 2009 an unannounced inspection of Tinsley House by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons reported that "conditions had generally deteriorated and the arrangements for children and single women were now wholly unacceptable" and that "staff talked openly about an increased prison culture encroaching on Tinsley House’s previously relaxed atmosphere".[19] The gradual erosion of the centre's initial regime of 'Caring Custody' effectively marked the end of the 'Tinsley Model' and with it the dynamic of the chaplaincy's intensive pastoral care which had been a fundamental feature of the model.

Deaths in immigration custody[edit]

(Source: Deaths in Immigration Custody)

There have been over thirty deaths in UK detention centres, including:

  • Siho Iyiguveni – 8 October 1989 - Harmondsworth Detention Centre
  • Kimpua Nsimba – 15 June 1990- Harmondsworth Detention Centre
  • Robertas Grabys – 24 January 2000 - Harmondsworth Detention Centre
  • Mikhail Bognarchuk – 31 January 2003 - Haslar Detention Centre
  • Olga Blaskevica – 7 May 2003 - Harmondsworth Detention Centre
  • Kabeya Dimuka-Bijoux – 1 May 2004 - Haslar Detention Centre
  • Sergey Barnuyck – 19 July 2004 - Harmondsworth Detention Centre
  • Tran Quang Tung – 23 July 2004 - Dungavel Detention Centre
  • Kenny Peter – 7 November 2004 - Colnbrook Detention Centre
  • Ramazan Kumluca – 27 June 2005 - Campsfield Detention Centre
  • Manuel Bravo – 15 September 2005 - Yarl's Wood Detention Centre
  • Bereket Yohannes – 19 January 2006 - Harmondsworth Detention Centre
  • Eliud Nguli Nyenze – 15 April 2010 - Oakington Detention Centre
  • Muhammed Shuket – 2 July 2011 - Colnbrook Detention Centre
  • Ianos Dragutan – 2 August 2011- Campsfield Detention Centre
  • Brian Dalrymple – 31 July 2012 - Colnbrook Detention Centre
  • Kwabena Fosu – 30 October 2012 - Harmondsworth Detention Centre
  • Alois Dvorzac – 10 February 2013 - Harmondsworth Detention Centre
  • Khalid Shahzad – 30 March 2013 - Colnbrook Detention Centre
  • Tahir Mehmood – 26 July 2013 - Dungavel Detention Centre
  • Amir Siman-Tov - 17 Feb 2016 - Colnbrook Detention Centre[20]
  • Unnamed - 1 December 2016 - Colnbrook Detention Centre[21]
  • Unnamed - 7 December 2016 - IRC Morton Hall Lincoln
  • Unnamed Polish national (27 years old) - 13 January 2017 - IRC Morton Hall Lincoln


  1. ^ Silverman, Stephanie J.; Hajela, Ruchi (6 February 2015). "Immigration Detention in the UK". Migration Observatory, University of Oxford. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  2. ^ "Brook House Immigration Removal Centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  3. ^ "Campsfield House immigration removal centre: Fire breaks out". BBC News. 19 October 2013. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Colnbrook immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  5. ^ "Dungavel immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  6. ^ "Harmondsworth immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  7. ^ "Larne House". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  8. ^ "Morton Hall immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  9. ^ "Pennine House". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  10. ^ "Tinsley House immigration removal centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  11. ^ "Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  12. ^ "".
  13. ^ "Home Office Asylum Statistics, 1st Quarter 2008" (PDF). Archived from the original on 27 June 2008.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  14. ^ "Bail for Immigration Detainees".
  15. ^ "Ricin case 'shows asylum chaos'". BBC. 2005-04-14.
  16. ^ Archived 13 March 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 September 2006.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 September 2015. Retrieved 2016-05-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^
  20. ^ Taylor, Diane (18 February 2016). "Inquiry after death of detainee at Colnbrook immigration removal centre". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  21. ^ Millar, Joey; Mansfield, Katie (Dec 2, 2016). "Man charged with murder of migrant at immigration centre in Hillingdon". Express. Express Newspapers.