UNHCR shares MPs’ concerns over use of immigration detention

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today welcomed the key recommendations of the report of the Joint Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration into the use of immigration detention in the UK.

"We are encouraged by important recommendations this report makes to the government, which we hope will be examined closely. The Members of the Parliament participating in this inquiry strongly echo some of UNHCR's concerns with the use of the immigration detention in the UK, including in relation to the Detained Fast Track (DFT) procedure. In 2014, nearly 14,000 asylum seekers were detained, that is more than half of those who sought last year protection in the UK from conflict, violence and persecution. Reducing the use of detention is possible, as seen in 2010 with the government’s commitment and the progress it has made towards ending the detention of children," said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR Representative to the UK.

"The current practice of routinely detaining asylum seekers for reasons of administrative convenience risks breaching international human rights principles and is inconsistent with UNHCR’s Detention Guidelines. Detention is not only costly, but can have a lasting, detrimental impact on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers."

The report's recommendation to introduce a maximum time limit of 28 days on the length of time anyone can be detained under immigration powers addresses one of the serious shortcomings UNHCR has identified in the UK’s immigration detention framework. At present, the lack of time limit leaves open the possibility of asylum seekers being detained indefinitely and without automatic judicial oversight.  In practice this has led to prolonged detention, as was evident from the testimonies given to the inquiry. 

Fear is Great Britain

Fear is Great Britain

Image by Teacher Dude

The UK uses detention in asylum procedures more frequently than any other country in the EU. UNHCR supports the inquiry's recommendation that decisions to detain should be exceptional.  As outlined in UNHCR’s Detention Guidelines, it is UNHCR's view that detention should be used only as a measure of last resort.

"Seeking asylum is a legitimate act and it is a fundamental human right. In our view the detention of asylum-seekers should be avoided – these are people who seek protection. We are ready to work with the authorities on this and support efforts to end the use of detention in the asylum process. There are alternatives to detention which should always be considered by authorities before any decision to detain.  Asylum procedures are most effective when individuals are treated with dignity, humanity and respect," said Vargas Llosa.

UNHCR's global research has found that stringent detention regimes do not deter irregular migration. Further, the use of alternatives to detention, ranging from surrender of documents, reporting conditions, bail, and community supervision arrangements,  can assist with the effective functioning of asylum procedures, at the same time as treating migrants and asylum-seekers humanely and with dignity. Compliance rates of over 90 per cent have been achieved where asylum seekers are released into alternative programmes with proper supervision and support.

Empirical evidence also demonstrates that detention is considerably more expensive compared to most alternatives, even when the short and long term negative health consequences on detainees or the impact on their later integration are excluded from the calculation.

In 2014 UNHCR launched a five-year Global Strategy 'Beyond Detention' to support governments to end the detention of asylum seekers and refugees. Through this strategy, UNHCR is working with governments, NGOs and civil society to address some of the main challenges and concerns around detention policies and practices. Implementation of the strategy is envisaged around the development of national action plans, which will include awareness-raising, capacity-building, strengthening partnerships, information sharing, data collection and reporting, research and monitoring. The UK is one of the focus countries for the initial roll-out. 

UNHCR's written and oral submissions to the Joint Inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK have been made in the broader context of the organisation's long and continuing cooperation with the UK authorities focused on monitoring, reviewing and improving the UK's asylum system. Since 2006, through Quality Initiative and Quality Integration projects UNHCR has monitored the operation of the DFT with the cooperation of the Home Office and issued two reports - in 2008 and 2010.


Background notes:

 1. The Detained Fast Track is a procedure whereby asylum seekers are detained if the government considers their claim “can be decided quickly”, which can mean within seven to ten days. The decision whether or not an asylum seeker will enter the DFT is made at an initial interview.

2. UNHCR’s 2014 submission to the Joint Inquiry on the Use of Immigration Detention in the UK can be found here: http://www.unhcr.org.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/UK_Parliamentary_Inquiry_-_Immigration_Detention_-_UNHCR_Written_Evidence.pdf

3. UNHCR’s Detention Guidelines can be read here: http://www.unhcr.org/505b10ee9.html

4. UNHCR’s ‘Beyond Detention’ Global Strategy can be read here: http://www.unhcr.org/53aa929f6.html

5. UNHCR’s 2010 audit of the Detained Fast Track can be read here, and key findings and recommendations can be found here: http://www.unhcr.org.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/docs/Quality_Integration_Project_First_Report_FINAL_PDF_VERSION.pdf

6. UNHCR’s 2008 audit of the Detained Fast Track can be read here, and key findings and recommendations can be found here: http://www.unhcr.org.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/QI_Fifth_Report.pdf

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