How Can You Help? Visiting Detention Centres

What is Immigration Detention?

Immigration detention is an administrative practice of holding people who are subject to immigration control in custody, while they wait for permission to enter or before they are deported or removed from the country. Migrants are detained at the decision of an immigration official, not a court or a judge. Unlike most other European countries, there is no time limit on immigration detention in the UK.

Home Office policy says that detention must be used sparingly and for the shortest possible period. In reality it is the norm rather than the exception. Around 25,000 migrants are detained each year. About 50% of those have at some point claimed asylum and are awaiting removal.

There are seven Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) in the UK, usually hidden away from public view. They are in essence no different from prisons, except that the inmates have no idea when they will be released, and very few have been convicted of a criminal act. Inmates are locked in cells at night, and have severe restrictions on what they can do during the day.

In those circumstances it is little wonder that the rate of depression, self-harm and even suicide in IRCs is high. Visiting is allowed, although it is not easy to access the more remote centres, and detainees are often held hundreds of miles from their previous address. Most IRCs have visitors’ groups: a visit from a friend or supporter from the world outside is often a life-saver for the detainee. It would be wonderful if every inmate knew they would be receiving a regular visit. If we, as Christians, take Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 about visiting those in prison seriously, we should be at the forefront of this vital ministry.

For more detailed information about visitng those in immigration detention, check out the Quick Guide.