It’s Time for a Time Limit on Immigration Detention

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It’s Time for a Time Limit on Immigration Detention

This month the UK Government released its latest statistics on detention [1]. They are released at a time when Sir Stephen Shaw has completed a follow up to his 2016 review into the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons, which urged radical detention reform to drastically reduce the number of people detained and the length of time they are detained for. The new review has yet to be published.

The figures showed that in the year to 31 March 26,541 people entered detention, a reduction of just 8% from the previous year. A slightly higher number left detention and fewer than half of them were removed from the country, which is what the government claims detention is for. This is a massive waste of public funds. And of course the human cost is incalculable.

Under half (47%) of the people detained in the year to the end of March 2018 were in or had been through the asylum process. But what is less well understood is that people in detention also include other people subject to immigration control such as people who have overstayed their visas, people who have been refused permission to enter the UK, and foreign nationals who have served a prison sentence and have been issued with a deportation order. Increasingly, they also include citizens of European Union countries, who may not have served any prison sentence, a situation that has led some politicians to accuse the Government of being motivated by ‘politics not policing[2]’

As visitors to people in Dungavel, the only detention centre in Scotland, we meet people in all these circumstances. Despite their diversity, they share a sense of shock at their detention, particularly because, uniquely in Europe, there is no time limit on detention in the UK. Nobody entering Dungavel, or one of the seven other places like it, knows how long they will be there. And it can be a very long time. Of the 2,400 people in detention at the end of March 2018, 59% had been there for more than 28 days (about 1,400 people). Seventy-one had been there for over a year.

And one man had been detained for over three and a half years.

Just think about what that means. He was in detention for the last two general elections, for the Brexit referendum and for the election of Donald Trump as US president. And at the end of March this year, he was still detained, and still had no idea when he might be released. What have you done in those three and a half years?

But it doesn’t need to be like this. In 2015, a cross party group of MPs called for a time limit and a move to community-based alternatives to detention[3], arguing that the current system is ‘expensive, ineffective and unjust’. Since then, campaign has been gathering momentum. Organisations like HM Inspectorate of Prisons, The BMA, the Bar Council, Amnesty International and Liberty have all supported a time limit and their voices have been amplified by people in detention, people who have been detained and people who have worked in detention centres who have blown the whistle. If you would like to join them, here’s three things you can do today:

Sign Liberty’s petition calling on the UK Government to include a 28 day time limit in draft legislation to establish the post-Brexit immigration system

Make your feelings known on social media, using the hashtag #Time4aTimeLimit

Write to your MP to tell them, this is important to you. You can find who your MP is here:


As part of Refugee Festival Scotland 2018, Scottish Detainee Visitors in collaboration with Ice & Fire are holding an event on Tuesday 19 June 19:30. The event will be a performance of a Detention Dialogue followed by an opportunity for discussion.

Click for more info 

Follow Scottish Detainee Visitors at,, @SDVisitors 

Blog by: Kate Alexander




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