Detained and dehumanised: the impact of immigration detention

28 June 2020

The Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK)’s report ‘Detained and Dehumanised: The impact of immigration detention’ draws from the accounts of 27 forcibly displaced people supported by JRS UK, with direct experience of detention spanning the last 20 years. It finds that the Home Office policy of immigration detention fosters a culture of death, self-harm and ongoing trauma leaving those who are detained, or threatened by the prospect of detention, dehumanised.

Key findings

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.

What we´re saying

“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


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.

This article was publised at JRS UK website