Freedom from Torture - What’s the difference between torture and UK immigration detention?

What’s the difference between torture and UK immigration detention?

The UK government detains torture survivors in immigration removal centres despite all the evidence saying that they suffer further mental and physical harm by bringing back the terrible memories of torture.

Imprisonment brings back the terrible memories of what happened to them. They see guards and bars on the windows. They fear that they will be tortured. For many the imprisonment itself is torture. Clients often say the experience is even worse because they had expected to be treated fairly and with due process in the UK.

Survivors’ descriptions of their experiences in detention can be hard to tell apart from their descriptions of torture back home. Watch our video and take our quiz to see if you can tell the difference.

Every year the UK government detains around 30,000 people in immigration removal centres. Unlike prisons, the centres can hold people indefinitely. While some are released after days or weeks, others remain incarcerated for months or even years.

Clients of Freedom from Torture, who have fled to the UK to seek a safe haven from torture and abuse, are among those who have been detained in the centres. For them, detention is a truly terrifying experience.

Many are taken into the centres, without notice, often when they are attending appointments at the police station or home office. They find themselves handcuffed and placed in a transit van. They are transported to an unknown destination. They have no way of telling friends or family what happened or contacting their lawyer.

Immigration detention has had many critics, including legal and medical professionals and human rights organisations, like Freedom from Torture.

The Shaw Review

The government-commissioned Shaw Review into the welfare of immigration detainees, reported in January 2016. Among its 64 recommendations, it urged Ministers to reduce “boldly and without delay” the numbers detained, called for a complete ban on the detention of pregnant women and said there should be a “presumption against detention” of victims of rape and sexual violence, people with learning difficulties, and those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In response, the Home Office introduced an Adults at Risk policy. This policy was intended to address Shaw’s concerns and provide a higher level of protection for vulnerable individuals. A second Shaw review, published in July 2018, showed it has had the opposite effect. Not only were fewer vulnerable people identified in detention but fewer were released to the community.

Freedom from Torture believes that there should be an immediate end to the detention of people who have survived torture and other serious harm. We want to see the Home Office’s new definition of torture withdrawn and the Adults at Risk policy revised to give survivors the higher level of protection they were promised.

Facts about immigration detention

  • Immigration removal centres are defined as “holding centres for foreign nationals awaiting decisions on their asylum claims or awaiting deportation following a failed application”. In practice, many detainees are held while going through the asylum process or have been classified as” vulnerable people” who should not be in detention.
  • There are currently ten centres in the UK, including six in the south-east, close to international airports, with others in Manchester, Lincolnshire, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • The centres are run by companies such as G4S, Mitie and GEO, and operate under rules laid down by government.
  • Around 30,000 people are detained each year, with usually around 3,000 being held at any one time. In 2017, 27,331 people were detained, with the majority (23,272) being male.
  • Less than half of those held in immigration removal centres are deported. Most detainees are bailed or released into the community.
  • The “Windrush scandal” revealed that an unknown number of British citizens and legal residents were detained in immigration removal centres and at least 63 were deported.

For more information on immigration detention and its impact on torture survivors living in the UK, read our blog.

Watch our video on torture survivors in detention and take our quiz.



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