Withdrawal of independent support and advice to immigration detainees a 'costly mistake', warns Refugee Action

28 March 2014

Refugee Action is saddened by news of the withdrawal of support for people considering voluntary return in Immigration Removal Centres and voices extreme concern for the expected resulting increases to the levels of isolation and vulnerability of detainees.

A Home Office decision to no longer fund the detention element of Refugee Action’s Choices service as of 1st April 2014 ends the provision of advice and assistance to people being held in Immigration Removal Centres who are considering returning to their country of origin.  The Home Office advises that no alternative voluntary return programme will be offered in its place.

Information compiled by Refugee Action during three years of working with detainees demonstrates the significant levels of vulnerability they face. Data suggests that half of detainees questioned developed a physical or mental health problem while in detention, many citing self-harm and attempted suicide.

‘Immigration detainees often need support to re-establish themselves in their countries of return, with the help of our local NGO partners there’ says Dave Garratt, the charity’s Chief Executive. ‘Withdrawing Refugee Action from immigration detention work leaves incredibly vulnerable people without sufficient levels of impartial support both before and after returning’ he warns.

‘The decision to end our service for detained people is likely to result in a shift from planned, considered voluntary returns to rushed, undignified forcible removals which do not enable people to build a life for themselves in their country. From a government perspective it is also likely to lead to fewer people actually leaving the UK, as not all those who are detained can be forcibly removed’ says Garratt. 

‘We are extremely concerned that this decision will prove a costly mistake – both in monetary terms to the government and, more importantly, to the mental and physical wellbeing of highly vulnerable people’.

One detainee told Refugee Action of the high levels of distress apparent in detention. He said: ‘I am so depressed here; I feel helpless and abandoned. I think you will find everyone has the same kind of depression here.’

Another man told the organisation: ‘I don’t think the staff has been trained to deal with us as humans. We are on only nodding terms with the staff. We don’t feel we’re in safe hands.”

Refugee Action believes that arbitrary immigration detention and inhumane removal processes have no place in the UK. It is looking at ways to support partner organisations who continue to operate services in detention centres, in their work to monitor and protect the mental and physical health and wellbeing of detainees.

The organisation will continue to push the government for equal access to the Assisted Voluntary Return programme for detainees. And its Choices service will continue to deliver the existing Assisted Voluntary Return programme to those who are not in immigration detention.


Media enquires

For more information, interviews and any other enquiries please contact Sarah Filbey, Media and PR officer at Refugee Action on 020 7952 1530 /sarahf@refugee-action.org.uk. For out of hours media enquires please call 07771 748159.

About Refugee Action

Refugee Action is a national charity working with refugees to build new lives in the UK. We provide practical support and advice to refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK. Many have lost everything having fled war, rape or torture. We offer a helping hand and empower them to rebuild their lives. Find out more www.refugee-action.org.uk

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