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  • The culture of death and trauma that pervades the experience of being detained is one in which self harm is commonplace and many of those interviewed witnessed suicide attempts, while others themselves felt suicidal.
  • The UK is currently the only country in Europe to use indefinite immigration detention, without a time limit on how long someone can be detained. While even a short period in detention is traumatic, long detention is especially damaging. This lack of a time limit was found by those interviewed to be particularly stressful, as they did not to know when they would be released and could not mentally adjust
  • Detention is harmful to physical and mental health and causes long-term trauma. Many of those detained arrived in the UK seeking sanctuary after experiences of torture. Being detained causes them to re-live previous experiences.
  • The process of detention itself is arbitrary, and lacks accountability, with no meaningful notice and no explanation. Reporting to the Home Office is also experienced in the shadow of detention. The prospect of detention and re-detention creates fear that shapes life long after release, punctuating it more sharply as the time to report approaches.



“I went in detention in my country. I was tortured, persecuted. You took me to detention again.”



 “Taking me away in the van…I will never forget. Chains on my hands.” 


“The most awful thing was an uncertainty: Not knowing whether I will be released and what they’re going to do to me.”



“People lose hope because you don’t know if you’re gonna be released. It’s like you’ve disappeared.”


“It was just one punishment, but I’ve done it about five times.”


“It’s psychological torture…it’s like dying little by little.”


“I stopped eating…I wanted to end it”


“I saw people cutting themselves, someone who tried to hang himself, someone who died in detention…”

“The only thing that keeps you going is that you pray,  you have faith.”


“I cannot progress, I can’t do anything, I’m useless.”


“We feel we are treated like criminals or animals. What have we done to be treated like this?”


“Human rights in this country, I discovered there is more to it: Britain has a bad side people don’t know about.”


“They handcuffed me and took me…I felt embarrassed…”


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“This report provides further damning evidence of the tragic and dehumanising effects of the Home Office’s use of immigration detention. This research speaks to 20 years of experience of immigration detention in the UK. It is clear from those interviewed that being physically detained, as well as the looming threat of detention, irreversibly impact mental and physical wellbeing and cause life-long pain and trauma.”

“At JRS UK we regularly encounter vulnerable individuals who are subjected to the indignity of detention through an arbitrary process, and who are caught in a complex web of dehumanising policies. Far from being a last resort, the use of these punitive and devastating powers has become so automatic that it has been normalised.  Immigration detention is a harmful process that destroys families, communities and lives.”

“The time for government to end this cruel and inhumane practice is long over-due.”

– Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK


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1. An end to the use of detention for the purpose of immigration control, as it is incompatible with a humane and just immigration and asylum system.

For as long as immigration detention exists, the report urges the Government at the very least take steps to limit harm by:

2. introducing a mandatory time limit of 28 days or less for all those detained under immigration powers and;

3. ensuring the decision to detain must go before a judge and be independent of the Home Office.


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Watch next

Watch JRS UK’s Senior Policy Officer Dr Sophie Cartwright and JRS UK’s Detention Outreach Officer Will Neal discuss our latest report on immigration detention, ‘Detained and Dehumanised’ in our online Accompaniment in Action event held in September 2020.



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A poem, written by E.E

Detention is. Detention is

Do you know the prison?

Do you ever locked up in a cell?

There is no difference between being criminal or innocent.

Detention is. Detention is being vulnerable, is a big crime

Trying to follow law. The law escape from you.

Try to find solicitor. Solicitors are not free

Detention is. Detention is.

Freedom is so far.

Deportation is so near.

Fear. Cry. Suicidal Thought.

What have I done?

Why am I here?

Detention is. Detention is.

Expired sanitary product.

Forced untasty food.

Dark, hopeless, end of the tunnel

Work for one pound per hour

Detention is. Detention is.

There are no human rights.

It is abuse and humiliating.

End the abuse of human right.

End the disaster called detention.

End detention. End detention.


by E.E

Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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