As you read this page, approximately 750 vulnerable people including women and children are languishing behind bars.  They have been imprisoned without charge, without being brought before a magistrate or judge, and have committed no crime.  Though the scenario is reminiscent of a brutal dictatorship, this abuse of human rights is actually taking place in the UK at the moment.

Refugees who have survived human rights violations, torture or other forms of persecution and who exercise their right to seek asylum in the UK can be imprisoned in this way in the UK.  It is estimated that 10,000 asylum-seekers are imprisoned in total each year.  Many are detained from the moment they arrive.  They are held indefinitely in special immigration detention centres and in regular prisons.

The decision to detain an individual is made by an Immigration Officer at the air/sea port.  The Immigration Service argues that it only uses detention as a last resort when they think that someone will abscond.  However, in our experience, detention is often completely arbitrary.  No other European country has or uses such wide-ranging powers to lock up asylum-seekers.

Detention is also clearly used as a deterrent.  For example, when a number of Czech and Slovak Roma claimed asylum towards the end of 1997, the Immigration Service detained most of the men but not their families.  The detentions were intended to dissuade other Roma from coming to the UK.  The use of detention as a deterrent breaches international guidelines on the treatment of asylum-seekers. 

The impact of detention on people trying to recover from horrific experiences of persecution is tremendous.  One of our clients described his 14 month stay in Rochester Prison as “a kind of psychological torture.”  He had fled to the UK for safety after the persecution he sufffered at the hands of the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire who objected to his peaceful political activities, detained him and subjected him to severe beatings and torture during his imprisonment.

Despite the fact that detention costs approx  £15 million per year, the government are creating new detention centres for asylum-seekers in order to lock more people up.  The Conservative party state that they would like to see all asylum-seekers imprisoned whilst their asylum claims are being determined.