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Detention Centre Outrage: The UK’s Discrimination Against Non-Citizens

Immigration Covid

Guest contributor Harriet Morphy-Morris comments on the decried methods the UK government has utilised in handling immigration cases during Covid-19. 

The UK government continues ignoring the rights of non-UK citizens by placing thousands of people in immigration detention centres during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 19,000 people were placed in detention during the first peak of the crisis, despite having insufficient measures in place to protect the health of inmates and staff. The government knew about the lack of resources to effectively prevent the spread of the virus in crowded detention centres and yet, they placed thousands of people there. 

In October hundreds of inmates were left isolated in Scotland’s Dungavel detention centre after a Covid outbreak. Inhumane living conditions including overcrowding and unsanitary facilities contributed to the spread of the virus. Speaking on the issue, human rights lawyer Aemer Anwar said the Home Office has a history of failing to provide support to those with medical conditions. Dungavel provided no welfare or dignity to the detainees. 

This has sparked calls for the permanent closure of what is described by many as “unjust and ineffective” immigration facilities. The lack of safeguarding and a process that prioritises quick administration of detainees’ physical and mental welfare is defined by many as a breach of human rights. Detention Action, who provide support to those held in immigration detention, have highlighted that despite an outcry to close detention centres, there are still hundreds of people being placed in unsanitary warehouses with no Covid testing facilities. More than half of those are considered highly vulnerable and likely to be taken extremely ill with symptoms.

The Home Secretary has the power to detain people for a short period of time. However, this traumatic experience is being used by the government as an administrative “fast track” to speed up applications. The UK holds people in centres whilst they wait for scheduled deportation. This controversial “last resort” procedure has no judicial oversight, meaning the decision to detain someone does not need approval from a judge. 

Unlike other European countries, the UK has no set limit on how long they can hold such individuals. The government states that the process is used rarely; however, thousands of people are held for long periods of time each year. Data obtained from the Migration Observatory showed 24,000 people were forced into detention in 2019, and a third of these people were held for longer than 28 days. Another report by The Guardian further highlights the shocking amount of unlawful detentions. In 2018, the government had to pay £13.8 million to more than 500 people who were wrongly detained, many of whom had lived in the UK since birth or childhood. Between 2012 and 2017 the government forked out £21 million in compensation.

Along with the emotional trauma this process has on people and their families, there have been many recorded cases of abuse. Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick Airport was exposed by Panorama after footage revealed physical and emotional bullying on-site. An inquiry by Parliament UK revealed that the existing Adults at Risk Policy put in place to protect the wellbeing of detainees is not effective. Rule 35, which is intended to act as a safeguard, is recorded to have failed across multiple sites. 

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic through into our second lockdown, thousands of people have signed petitions to close detention centres and prevent unnecessary deaths.

The need for immigration is understood. During a pandemic which causes  great hardships across the world, people’s health should be a priority. Poor conditions at many immigration centres are causing atrocities, which is why those should be temporarily closed.

Harriet Morphy-Morris writes for, a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world.

Harriet Morphy-Morris



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