Ending Immigration Detention

Updated 24 June 2022: This system is so cruel, playing with people’s lives :

BBC: Asylum seeker and pandemic volunteer released by Home Office

An asylum seeker who helped the vulnerable during the pandemic has been released from an immigration centre.

Richard Nomba, who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo, was taken from his Swansea home and detained at Brook House at Gatwick Airport on Tuesday.

Mr Nomba, who arrived in Swansea in 2018, said he was released on Friday evening to continue his appeal.

The Home Office said detentions were after careful consideration and people were held “no longer than necessary”.

Mr Nomba said he fled DR Congo after escaping from custody.

During his imprisonment, he said he was denied access to a lawyer.

The 50-year old, who has been living in Brynhyfryd, Swansea, said he had been held as he was a political opponent to the DR Congo government and that he fears being locked up again if he is returned.

Prior to his release on Friday, he said: “I have been detained since Tuesday. They took me to Bridgend and then I went to Bedford.

“This morning they transferred me to Gatwick and to Brook House detention centre.”

He said he was being kept in a room alone because he has high blood pressure and that the centre was noisy.

Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-61918421


31 May 2022: Rethinking Security: Unthinking Immigration Detention by Fred Ashmore

A decade on from the launch of its Hostile Environment agenda, the UK government is stepping up its campaign against asylum seekers, with indefinite imprisonment of migrants a central component. Fred Ashmore argues that immigration detention is expensive, ineffective and demeans us as a nation. It requires an urgent rethinking beyond the politics of fear.

Like other members of Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, I share many interests with Rethinking Security. This includes my own particular focus: the UK’s system of immigration detention, a carceral response to managing the fears of many of the electorate. This piece is written soon after the passing of the Nationalities and Borders Bill 2022, a piece of legislation which reflects the attitudes and prejudices of this government and cocks a snook at the international regime for protecting and supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Other recent announcements have included the brutal (though not original) idea of exporting asylum seekers to Rwanda to take their chances in the Rwandan regime for asylum, and the decision that this country will not, after all, use its armed forces to nudge inflatable boats overloaded with asylum seekers back towards France.

No difficulty, then, in discerning the Hostile Environment – a term coined by then Home Secretary Theresa May exactly 10 years ago – at work. Asylum seekers and migrants are to be discouraged even if it is in contravention of international agreements and basic human rights. And if by some chance a person makes it to these shores, the first thing likely to happen is that they will be detained. For processing and assessment of course; just checking the story and getting the facts clear. While preventing free movement in case such a person might not be confident of being treated fairly, might hear rumours of the regime under which people are held in this country. Might become aware of the likelihood of being – effectively – imprisoned without trial and without time limit, under conditions which have been repeatedly assessed as damaging to mental health.

Shrieking, timeless hostility

Immigration controls and management are not completely unreasonable ideas. No one would dismiss the possibility that someone coming to this country might have adverse intent. But the degree to which our administration shows suspicion, mistrust and stereotyping appears beyond reasonable. Everything about the regime shrieks hostility. The widespread and routine use of immigration detention is one of the nastiest aspects.

Although most of us are aware of immigration detention, many may be unaware of how it is deployed. This is an administrative measure. No matter if an asylum seeker is vulnerable, ill or mentally fragile. Lock up first, assess later – and generally only when forced to do so.

A wide range of government employees can exercise immigration powers, and the victims are locked up in a place built to the standards of a Class B prison, surrounded by 5m high fencing, unable to leave or to exercise the rights of every citizen. A lengthy and complex process is required to apply for bail. And, possibly the worst aspect, the detention is without a time limit. It seems extraordinary that this country continues to do this despite the continuing pressure to introduce a limit to the time for which people can be locked up in detention, possibly set at the duration which experts have identified as the threshold for damage to mental health.

Some of those who arrive here are locked up in even worse conditions. The barracks where large numbers of asylum seekers are detained have been the subject of vigorous criticism but Napier barracks, near Folkestone, continues to be used.

Alternatives to detention

The most puzzling question is why the government thinks it’s a good idea to lock people up as a matter of course or at all. It is really not very effective, in terms of promoting resolution of claims effectively. People can be held for long periods, though these days there is better awareness that a detainee can seek immigration bail with a fair chance of success. But in the end, about 72% of detainees are released into the community, sometimes with reporting requirements or other conditions, but released. So what benefit was there from holding them in prison for months first?

It’s seriously expensive. A 2018 parliamentary briefing paper on immigration detention in the UK reported the cost at about £86,000 a year per person plus in many cases the costs of damages for harm caused by the detention. Pilot studies of alternatives to detention have shown that people engage much better with an immigration system if they feel that they understand it, are listened to and can explore their options fairly.

There have been several studies of the idea of alternatives to detention, including a recent one in which the outcomes for a group of women of having their cases worked through without locking them up. They did all right. None of them ran away or failed to cooperate with those examining their claims. The International Detention Coalition has done a study of three pilot schemes for alternatives to detention, carried out in Poland, Cyprus and Bulgaria. The story is pretty much the same: non-imprisoned people following through their application for asylum cooperate well with the processes even if they are not locked up.

The strongest clue to the UK government’s attitude is embedded in its recent Nationalities and Borders Bill and explanatory material produced by those who have pushed the Bill through. The phrase is “illegal entry”. People who have the monstrous impertinence to ask for asylum under international agreements (the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol which extends its scope by removing the previous geographical limitations) are suspicious ipso facto. They are to be treated as criminals, wrong doers. If we want to offer shelter to refugees, we’ll show them that they are welcome, but those who don’t wait to be asked are to be excluded if possible, and, as an interim measure, locked up.

A supportive environment

It would be so wonderful if as a nation we offered a supportive environment rather than a hostile one. The excellent Detention Forum has set out the case for this, deploying a community-based case resolution system, along with a number of other changes that might bring this country closer to civilised behaviour.

“We want to see people treated clearly and fairly while they explore whether or not they will be able to stay with us. We want to see all people in this country being treated with dignity and respect as individual human beings including: undocumented migrants, time-served prisoners, people seeking asylum and people who have been refused asylum.” 

As Rethinking Security seeks to reimagine ways in which we could achieve freedom from want and freedom from fear, try to dream and hope that the government starts thinking afresh its attitude to this blot of a detention system.


Fred Ashmore is a Quaker of long standing, valuing in particular the Quaker testimonies to equality and truth and everything which flows from these.  His interested in immigration detention has been reinforced by considerable visiting of immigration detainees before COVID put a stop to this. He lives in London. 


18 May 2022: International Detention Coalition: Gaining Ground: Promising Practice to Reduce & End Immigration Detention

International Detention Coalition report: Gaining Ground May 2022
International Detention Coalition report: Gaining Ground May 2022

Immigration detention represents one of the most flagrant human rights violations of our time. In recent years, IDC has seen a number of governments begin to recognise that effective and feasible alternatives to detention (ATD) do exist. This paper was written to provide an overview of practical examples and recent developments in the field of alternatives to detention (ATD), in order to highlight promising practice and encourage further progress in this area. It aims to inspire and embolden governments, local authorities, international organisations, civil society and community actors and other stakeholders, with steps they can take to move away from the use of immigration detention. This report includes an Annex compiling short country profiles for the 47 countries included in the research mapping.

Conclusion and recommendations
Across the world, and often in the face of extremely restrictive and challenging political environments, efforts are ongoing on the part of a number of governments, local authorities, civil society actors and UN agencies to reduce and end the use of immigration detention.

The promising practices identified within this paper are illustrative of just some of the recent attempts to move towards migration governance systems that allow people to resolve their cases in the community, guaranteeing them access to their rights, agency, and the services they need.

The examples included here range from rights-based ATD initiatives and programmes to other developments in law, policy and practice that represent positive steps towards reducing and ultimately ending immigration detention. What they all have in common is that they contain some or all of the elements that IDC sees as necessary for States to gradually move away from detention as a tool of migration governance.

Despite some positive momentum, and notwithstanding the significant – and growing – body of international and regional standards that set out to end child detention and to limit the use of detention for people on the move, there is still a long way to go before non-detention and ATD become the ‘new normal.’ The upcoming International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) in May 2022 will give States the opportunity to gather for the first time to review progress on the guiding principles and commitments they made within the GCM. It presents an opportunity to harness momentum around ATD and to ensure that promising practice can be replicated and scaled up. It will also be critical that efforts continue well beyond the IMRF, and that they ultimately lead to concrete steps towards reducing and ending immigration detention.

It is only through such actions that migrants, refugees and other people on the move will truly be able to live with rights and dignity.

In particular, governments and States should work towards:
Setting up programmes that reduce and end people’s risk of immigration detention in the short and long terms
› Introduce long-term regularisation schemes that allow for people with irregular migration status to gain legal residence and access to rights and services.
› Put in place clear and accessible programmes that allow for the provision of formal status and documentation for people awaiting a decision on their migration case.
› Ensure that appropriate and adequately resourced screening, assessment and referral mechanisms are in place in order to allow for identification of vulnerabilities and to determine placement options.

Increasing the use of rights-based, community-based ATD for people at risk of detention
› Incorporate provisions around case management-based ATD into legislation and policy.
› Pilot and scale up case management-based and rights-based alternatives to detention that provide holistic, individualised support to people as they work to resolve their cases in the community. Where possible, partnerships should be established with civil society organisations and grassroots groups in order to ensure that case management provision is independent and reflects the needs of migrant communities.
› Ensure that adequate funding is available for non-custodial solutions, and prioritise these
approaches over immigration detention when it comes to resource allocation.

Putting in place alternative care arrangements for children
› Ensure that alternative care arrangements are in place for children on the move and that these programmes are provided with adequate funding and safeguards.
› Integrate migrant children into existing national child protection systems and ensure that children are able to remain with family and/ or guardians in non-custodial, community- based contexts while their immigration status is being resolved.
› End detention of all children, in legislation and in practice, in line with GCM and international human rights law commitments.

Ensuring that efforts to reduce and end immigration detention put engagement and human rights front and centre
› Avoid the use of de facto detention and alternative forms of detention – including electronic tagging – that still deprive people of their liberty.
› Ensure that efforts to reduce and end immigration detention respond to the diverse and intersecting identities of people on the move, including by ensuring that they are gender-sensitive and gender-responsive.
› Build the understanding and capacity of officials to apply appropriate protection tools and processes, including screening and vulnerability assessment tools.

Ensuring the collection and publication of ethical, credible data and sharing of practices
› Strengthen responsible and ethical collection of data on migrants, refugees and other people on the move – particularly when it comes to immigration detention – and ensure information sharing with relevant governmental and non-governmental actors while respecting privacy and firewalls.
› Conduct mapping in the country context to identify risk factors for immigration detention, as well as to identify strengths and gaps in existing practice which could support context-specific, rights-based ATD for migrants, refugees and other people on the move.
› Engage in peer learning initiatives, to draw learning and ideas from other countries and regions on promising practices to reduce and end immigration detention, including learning from countries that do not use immigration detention as a migration governance tool as the ultimate best practice.


Promoting whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches
› Work closely with civil society organisations, grassroots groups, local authorities and UN agencies in order to further whole-of-society approaches to reducing and ending immigration detention.
› Meaningfully engage with grassroots groups and leaders with lived experience in order to ensure that the views and voices of those with lived experience of immigration detention are put front and centre.
› Ensure coordination between government departments in order to put in place coherent, whole-of-government approaches to migration governance that respect the rights of migrants, refugees and other people on the move.

Ultimately ending the use of
immigration detention

› Incorporate provisions around non-detention into legislation and policy.
› End detention of all children and ensure that migrant children are integrated into mainstream child protection systems
› End the use of immigration detention as a tool of migration governance, and explore other options to ensure that people are able to resolve their cases in the community with access to their rights and to the support and services they require

Download Full Paper here: https://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Gaining-Ground-Report-2022.pdf