Immigration Detention: What Can We Do to Stop It?

A few weeks ago I attended a talk discussing immigration detention centres and the issues surrounding them, with a focus to educate and mobilise people against the horrific injustices arising as a result of the UK’s "hostile environment."

Up until that point I had very little knowledge about the issue, knowing only key buzzwords such as Yarls Wood and the Windrush scandal. The talk was a complete eye opener. It was deeply unsettling but what alarmed me the most was that, even though I consider myself to be relatively in touch with current affairs, I was almost entirely in the dark about the specifics of the atrocious treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and so called "illegal" immigrants in the UK.

In light of this, I've put together a fact file outlining key facts and figures relating to immigration detention centres and the people they affect, as well as a brief overview of some of the incredible organisations within Manchester working to combat this systemic problem.

Fact and Figures
  • There are 10 removal centres within the UK, each of which can hold 2000-3000 people at any one time
  • In 2017 over 27,000 people were detained
  • There are 358 people being held in prisons

  • 42 children are currently being detained

  • 30% of people in detention centres have a child dependent living in the UK

  • 47% have sought asylum

  • 6 people died in immigration removal centres in 2017

  • 56% of detainees have history of physical or mental illness or have experienced torture outside the UK

  • Deportation rates stand at 44%

  • 1% of people are held for over a year, amounting to 300 people

  • One year of detention costs the taxpayer £30,000

Facts and figures have been sourced from the talk and The Guardian.

Immigration detention is an administrative procedure rather than a criminal one, meaning it is entirely at the discretion of the Home Office. As a result, there are very few checks and balances, allowing the government to use underhand practices and much of what goes on within detention centres falls within grey areas of the law.

A perfect example of this is the exploitative ‘paid work’ schemes within detention centres. Those detained can voluntarily take up menial jobs, for which they are paid just £1 an hour. In 2016-17, detainees carried out 887,073 hours of work for a total of just £887,565.

Immigration centres, as well as prisons, fall outside of minimum wage jurisdiction, so while such appallingly low wages are clearly unethical, they are technically legal.

Detention centres outsource staff from private companies, adding another layer of unaccountability while also allowing for profit. Scandals such as the abuse of detainees in Brooke House in 2017 demonstrated the complete neglect of human rights rampant in these centres.

Most heart wrenching however, is the damage to human life these centres cause. Rebecca Farringdon, a GP and speaker at the talk explained that a significant majority of people detained or at risk of being detained have experienced extreme levels of trauma beforehand. Detention serves only to exacerbate existing anxieties and mental health problems such as insomnia, depression, suicidal thoughts and PTSD.

The Guardian reported, “Between April and June of this year there was a 22% rise in the number of detainees who tried to kill themselves, according to the FoI response from the Home Office, obtained by the organisation No Deportations. In all, 159 attempts were recorded.”

Furthermore, there is very limited information available to detainees, putting them in a daunting and precarious position as they apply for bail or try to gain legal counsel. A combination of poor conditions, lack of information, mistreatment by staff and indefinite detention is the perfect recipe for the retraumatisation of people who have already suffered so greatly.

Also, the possibility of being detained creates an atmosphere of terror among at-risk communities, some of whom may have never been to their country of origin, or remember nothing of their birthplace. These people have escaped war, human rights abuses and other atrocities only to be treated with utter contempt here in the UK.

How You Can Help

As dire as the situation is, there are some incredible organisations up and running within Manchester that help provide aid, funding, education and awareness around the issue. Be sure to check them out and get involved in anyway you can to change the political culture around immigration.

  • Manchester Refugee Rights Collective: A student led collective that works in collaboration with some of the organisations listed below. They host events, campaigns and outreach programs with the aim to increase awareness and fundraise for local and overseas charities regarding refugee rights.
  • Alexandria Library: Located on the Curry Mile, Alexandria Library provides English lessons and conversation classes to refugees and asylum seekers. The space also holds art exhibitions, featuring works reflecting the unique experiences and narratives of the diverse community of Rusholme.
  • Cornerstone: An outreach project based in Salford that provides multiple services for vulnerable and disadvantaged adults, including refugees.
  • Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research (RAPAR): A Manchester charity, founded in 2001, that is, in their own words,  "primarily concerned with displaced people, and issues relating to displaced people." They work on campaigns, outreach projects, casework and research.​
  • These Walls Must Fall: The organisation that hosted the talk discussed in this article. With branches in both Manchester and Liverpool, they organise campaigns, educational talks and protests against detention and are currently working on a trade union motion against detention.​
  • Student Action for Refugees: A UoM society that is part of a network of 35 university groups with the vision of improving refugee's lives through volunteering and campaigning.​​
  • Gaskell Garden Project: Runs sponsorship pro​jects to help support refugees in Manchester as well as campaigns to support refugees and asylum seekers.