Detention centres – or Immigration Removal Centres – are a source of ongoing controversy in the UK. Some immigrants, including children, are held in detention centres whilst awaiting the immigration authorities’ decision on whether they are eligible for a UK visa or entitled to asylum in the UK. Therefore, it is likely that some detainees are not guilty of any unlawful activity. The Chief Inspector of Prisons has, on more than one occasion, criticised or questioned the conditions in UK detention centres.
The UK currently has 11 detention centres – although there are plans to increase the number of spaces available for people awaiting immigration decisions. The article below gives a brief overview of the UK’s detention centres.
This centre in Hampshire has a long prior history, first as a Naval barracks and then as a Young Offender Institution. It opened as an immigration detention centre in June 1989 and is run by HM Prison Service. The centre has 160 beds for male detainees. Haslar has, at times, been the scene of riots, hunger strikes and other protests. The centre has been criticised on a number of occasions by the Prisons inspectorate.
Campsfield House detention centre is located near Oxford and is a long-term centre with space for 216 male detainees. The centre is privately run and was opened in 1993. Campsfield has been the site of a number of serious riots and disturbances. The centre is amongst those from which there have been several escapes – including an outbreak of 26 detainees in 2007.
Tinsley House opened in 1993 and is a privately run centre near Gatwick Airport. It has space for 216 men, 5 women and 4 families. In a 2009 report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said that the conditions at Tinsley House were no longer suitable for women and children.
Lindholme, near Doncaster, was previously an RAF base which opened as a detention centre in 2000. The centre can house 112 males over the age of 21 and is run by HM Prison Service. In 2006 several members of staff required hospital treatment for injuries sustained after detainees set fire to the building.
Oakington, also previously an RAF base, opened as a detention centre in 2000. It is privately run with space for 408 male detainees. The centre was originally due to close in 2006 but remains open pending sale and redevelopment of the site. In 2010 the Home Office was ordered to pay £100,000 in compensation to a Bolivian asylum-seeker after she and her children were unlawfully detained at Oakington.
Privately run Dungavel, in South Lanarkshire, started life as a hunting lodge. It opened in September 2001 and has facilities for children. The centre has 190 beds. In 2010 there was disquiet amongst local people after five-year-old Nigerian twins were taken straight from school to Dungavel, as the first step towards the deportation of the children and their mother.
Harmondsworth, near Heathrow Airport, also opened in September 2001 and has space for 259 single men. The centre, which is purpose-built and privately run, was temporarily closed in 2004 due to damage caused by rioting detainees. The riots began after false rumours spread through the centre that staff had murdered a detainee.
The purpose-built Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire opened in November 2001. This facility, which is privately run, is the UK’s main centre for the detention of women and families. The centre has 284 places for single females and 121 “family bed spaces”. In 2002 half of the building was destroyed by fire during a riot by detainees. The undamaged half re-opened in September 2003.
Prior to opening as an immigration detention centre in 2002, Dover was a Young Offender Institution. The centre, which overlooks Dover’s docks, is run by HM Prison Services and can accommodate 314 males over the age of 18. The security at Dover was criticised in 2003 after repeated escapes by detainees. Kent Police refused to help track down the detainees saying that it was not a crime to escape from an immigration detention centre.
Colnbrook opened, near Heathrow, in August 2004 and is the UK’s highest security detention centre. It is officially referred to as a “short-term holding facility” and has room for 308 adult men and women. Colnbrook has been the subject of a number of minor public outcries because of the allegedly luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by the detainees.
Brook House – the UK’s newest and biggest detention centre – opened in March 2009 and is a privately run, purpose-built facility. The centre, near Gatwick, has 426 spaces for men. Within 4 months of opening the emergency services had to be called to Brook House after detainees started a fire.