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Does detention increase removals and decrease asylum claims?

Yesterday I gave a short talk at an event organised by the Campaign to Close Campsfield as part of Oxford Refugee Week. It was an excellent, well attended event in a packed room at the town hall and I’m grateful for the chance to have spoken.

My first demonstration was as a student in 1998 at Campsfield. Like the migrants detained there, my first ever experience of immigration law and practice in the UK and our horrendous treatment of refugees was at an inhuman, miserable, isolated detention centre. I could not see the detainees to allow me to humanise them. They could not see me to be welcomed. That my first contact would be at a distance, through barbed wire without sight of an actual human being other than the burly security guards is just how the government then and now wants it, both for us on the outside and for them on the inside – out of sight, out of mind.

As preparation for the talk, I checked on the latest official migration statistics (to March 2014). I thought it might be helpful to visualise some of the data as a sort of follow up my previous attempts at infographics here and here.

It is well known that immigration detention is increasing. The official statistics bear this out: an historic high number of 30,113 entered detention in the year ending March 2014. According to received wisdom, increasing the amount of immigration detention would have the impact of

  • Increasing removals
  • Decreasing asylum claims
Detention is increasing. Removals are decreasing.

These assumptions are false, based on the Government’s own figures. At the same time that use of immigration detention increased, enforced removals decreased (to their lowest level since the data series began in 2004), the number of people removed from detention continued to decrease, down from 60% to 56%, and asylum claims increased.

So why are we increasing the use of detention? It certainly does not seem to deter actual migrants and asylum seekers. We do know that does them huge harm, though. At the same time, it increases the level of British public’s perception of threat by the detained Other, in the process harming the mainstream politicians responsible for commissioning the detention centres and helping UKIP.

Other bits of information that grabbed my attention are the significant jump in unmade decisions since last year, an increase of 38% that the statistical release states is “largely accounted for by a rise in the number pending an initial decision (+70%)”. I may have missed it, but I have not seen the right wing media picking up on that story of Government incompetence. Also, the refusal rate for initial asylum claims has significantly fallen since year end March 2010 when it stood at 76% to 64% for the year end March 2014. This at least is good news.

Take a look at the stats for yourself. Does anything else jump out at you?


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Colin Yeo
Colin Yeo A barrister specialising in UK immigration law at Garden Court Chambers in London, I have been practising in immigration law for 15 years. I am passionate about immigration law and founded and edit the Free Movement immigration law blog.

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