Immigration removal/detention centres

What are immigration removal/detention centres?

Immigration removal centres are holding centres for foreign nationals awaiting decisions on their asylum claims or awaiting deportation following a failed application.

Previously known as 'detention centres', the name was formally changed to 'removal centres' under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to "reflect the part played by detention in the removal of failed asylum-seekers and others".


The power to detain immigrants was first provided by the Immigration Act 1971, which allowed the detention of asylum seekers in detention centres or even prisons.

Prior to 2002 there were two types of detention centre: the removal centre and the removal prison. These were much like prison facilities, with the aim being to impose restrictions on the movement of the detainees, so that the government could monitor their whereabouts whilst their claims were being processed. Indeed some were actually held in prisons.

The detention of asylum seekers in such austere conditions was widely condemned by human rights groups, politicians, and many others who insisted that they should not be treated in the same way as ordinary criminals.

By 2001 the number of asylum seekers had reached an all-time high and the government embarked on a programme to provide a network of detention centres with the aim of moving towards a situation where no asylum seeker would be held in a prison.

In addition, the 'Detention Centre Rules 2001' were introduced which stipulated the way in which the centres were to be run, ensuring humane treatment of all detainees.

There are currently (2012) 12 removal centres in the UK.  All are run according to the Detention Centre Rules and every detained person is provided with a document, known as a 'compact', outlining their rights and responsibilities under the rules, and information about life in the centre.

The Detention Centre Rules cover such things as Welfare and Privileges. For example, a detainee's entitlement to visits from family members, agencies and legal representatives; the provision of wholesome and nutritious food and suitable clothing; time in the open air; recreational and educational activities; facilities for the practice of diverse religions; and access to healthcare.

The rules also cover General Security and Safety and state that this is to be maintained, "but with no more restriction than is required for safe custody and well ordered community life."


The increased use of detention came about in response to public concern about the government's ability to handle the rising numbers of applications for asylum since the late 1990s.

The use of detention is controversial because opponents argue it is wrong to imprison or restrict the movements of people who have committed no crime, and in many cases, people who have come to the UK to escape persecution. Those detained and their advocates have frequently complained about the conditions inside detention centres and the treatment of detainees by staff.

In February 2002, violence broke out at the Yarl's Wood centre in Bedfordshire. It was alleged that the violence erupted because the firm running the facility, Group 4, refused medical treatment to a detainee, but this is denied by the company. The rioting resulted in a break-out and a fire that destroyed half of the £100 million centre. It was subsequently revealed that none of the UK's removal centres had sprinklers for putting out fires.

There has also been publicity about overcrowding and poor conditions in detention centres. In 2006 chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers said inefficient and inhumane centres treated immigrants like "parcels". Her comments did not improve a year later, noting concerns about access to key services remained. She said immigrants were spending "unacceptably long periods" locked in single rooms at Colnbrook centre near Heathrow airport.

More bad publicity for the government followed in August 2007, when 26 asylum seekers escaped from a centre near Oxford.

"The problem we have is these people feel they are treated like criminals when their crimes are simply fleeing their own country for whatever reason," Iman Sajid from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said.

A particularly controversial and emotive topic is the detention of children in immigration removal centres. Following an unannounced visit to Yarl's Wood centre by Dame Anne Owers, a subsequent report published in March 2010 concluded that many children were being held unnecessarily, often for long periods of time, and that this was having a noticeable adverse effect on the children's well-being, causing "disruption and distress" to them and their families.

The detention of children in Dungavel IRC was halted in May 2010 following pressure from many groups in Scotland. But as detained families were now to be transferred to Yarl's Wood centre, critics said this was merely moving the problem elsewhere.

In December 2010, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced the immediate closure of the family wing at Yarl's Wood and pledged to end the detention of all children in immigration centres by the following May. However, some may still be held in pre-departure accommodation and a new Independent Family Returns Panel was set up in 2011, described by Immigration Minister Damian Green as "a crucial step toward a more humane removal process for families with no right to be in the UK."


Immigration Removal Centres:

Brook House – London Gatwick Airport, Gatwick. Opened 18 March 2009. A secure centre, purpose-built to category B Prison Service standard. Run by the G4S Group. Provides relatively short term accommodation for 426 male detainees.

Campsfield House – located approximately 5 miles north of Oxford In operation since 1993. A long-term centre where detainees are accommodated, pending their case resolutions and subsequent removal from the UK. Bed spaces for 216 male detainees. Contractor – MITIE care and custody.

Colnbrook- West Drayton, adjacent to Heathrow Airport. Opened August 2004. The most secure removal centre within the UK Border Agency estate, built to category B prison standard. Short-term holding facility used by UK Border Agency enforcement units to reduce reliance on police facilities and to provide a short term assessment and induction facility prior to moving to a main centre. Bed spaces for 308 male and female detainees. It is located close to London Heathrow Airport and was opened August 2004.

Dover – Western Heights, overlooking the port of Dover. Opened April 2002 as an immigration removal centre (IRC) having previously been run as a young offender's institute. Run by HM Prison Service. Bed spaces for 314 for males over the age of 18.

Dungavel – located on the B743 between Muirkirk and Strathaven. Bought by the Home Office in 2000 and opened as an immigration removal centre (IRC) in September 2001. Managed by the GEO Group. Bed spaces for 217 detainees.

Harmondsworth West Drayton, adjacent to Heathrow Airport and a neighbour to the Colnbrook centre. A purpose built, long-term centre where detainees are accommodated, pending their case resolutions and subsequent removal from the United Kingdom. Managed by the GEO Group. Bed spaces for 615 single males.

Haslar – Gosport, Hants. Built in 1864 as naval barracks, Haslar became a detention centre for young offenders in 1962. It re-opened in its current form in June 1989. Accommodate adult males aged 18 and over who have been detained under the Immigration Act by the UK Border Agency. Operated by HM Prison Service under a service level agreement. Bed spaces for 160 males.

Larne House – Antrim, Northern Ireland. A residential short-term holding facility; currently operates under the escorting services contract between UK Border Agency and Reliance. Used solely for the detention of a detainee for a period up to 7 days. Bed spaces – 10 bedrooms, 19 beds, for male and female.

Morton Hall – Swinderby, Lincs. Opened as an Immigration Removal Centre in 2011. Operates by a service-level agreement between the UK Border Agency and HM Prison Service. Bed spaces – 392 single rooms for male detainees.

Pennine House – Terminal 2, Manchester Airport. A residential short term holding facility; currently operates under the escorting services contract between UK Border Agency and Reliance. Used solely for the detention of a detainee for a period up to 7 days. Bed spaces – 8 bedrooms, 32 beds for male and female.

Tinsley House – Gatwick Airport. Purpose-built centre. Opened 1996. Managed by GS4 on behalf of the UK Border Agency. Bed spaces for 119 males an 8 families.

Yarl's Wood – situated on the outskirts of Clapham in Bedfordshire. Run under the Detention Centre Rules 2001. Yarl's Wood has become the main removal centre for women. Managed by Serco Ltd since 2007. Bed spaces – 405 bed spaces, divided into 284 single female bed spaces and 121 adult family bed spaces accommodating couples and adult dependants.

Source: UK Border Agency – 2012


"The purpose of detention centres shall be to provide for the secure but humane accommodation of detained persons in a relaxed regime with as much freedom of movement and association as possible, consistent with maintaining a safe and secure environment, and to encourage and assist detained persons to make the most productive use of their time, whilst respecting in particular their dignity and the right to individual expression."

From the Detention Centre Rules 2001

"Our removal centres are used for temporary detention, in situations where people have no legal right to be in the UK but have refused to leave voluntarily. Those detained in any of our centres can leave at any time to return to their home country."

UK Border Agency – 2012