UK lacks detention capacity

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
13 March 2024

The Financial Times has reported, on 12.03.2024, that the UK lacks detention capacity for the Prime Minister’s migration crackdown. Britain, according to Anna Jones at the Financial Times, only has about 700 detention spaces for migrants who arrive illegally, far fewer than needed to meet the Prime Minister’s migration policy.

The new Illegal Immigration Act outlines the duty to remove a person who comes to the UK without express permission from the Government, with all migrants to be detained after 28 days before removal. This provision has not been brought into effect because of the legal challenges to the Government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda without which the removal policy makes no sense. The article states that if the Government started detaining migrants from April, a total of at least 2,000 spaces in detention centres would be needed by the end of the month and the Financial Times calculation showed that by September the figure would rise to 5,400 spaces.

The estimates were based on official data that tracked the number of people arriving in small boats in 2023. The new planned detention sites are far from being operational in the near future. This means that, with the lack of detention places, thousands of people potentially could disappear from the asylum system if the Rwanda removal policy becomes law. ‘If the Rwanda plan starts, you are going to be left with this large cohort of people who will not realistically be going to Rwanda at any time soon’ says Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham. A letter written by Government officials last month said that the Home Office had lost contact with 32% of the 17,000 people whose applications had been withdrawn by last September. In addition, existing detention sites have had to reduce their capacity over the past year due to a lack of staff and resources.

What is Immigration Detention?

Immigration Detention refers to the Home Office practice of detaining foreign nationals for the purpose of resolving their immigration status. It is an administrative process, meaning that a decision to detain is made by the Home Office Civil Servants rather than the Courts, although it can result from a Court ordering deportation. The policy reasons for detaining a person include one or more of the following:-

  • To remove a person from the UK.
  • To establish the identity or the basis of the immigration or asylum claim.
  • Where there is a reason to believe they will abscond if released on bail.
  • Or when release is not considered to be conductive to the public good.

Detention typically ends in either removal or release, usually on immigration bail.

When can one be detained?

The Home Office has the administrative power to detain a non-citizen at any point in the immigration process. This includes upon arrival in the UK; upon presentation to an immigration office within the Country; during the check in with immigration officials; once a decision to remove has been issued; following arrest by Police officers; or sometimes after completing a prison sentence. The Home Office detain people in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs), residential short-term holding facilities, pre-departure accommodation facilities, short-term holding rooms, basic ports of entry and prisons, usually where a person has completed the prison sentence.

Is detention the last resort?

The Home Office policy and International Law state that detention must be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary. The Immigration Act 2016 introduced an automatic bail Hearing after four months of detention that are presided over by an independent First Tier Tribunal Adjudicator. Home Office senior officials must authorise detention continues after a bail Hearing. Unlike other European Countries, the UK does not legislate upper time limits for individual’s detention periods.

Can you detain pregnant women?

Home Office policy states that pregnant women may be detained only if removal is imminent or there are exceptional circumstances to justify detention.