No Pride in Detention

End the detention of LGBTQI+ people

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No-one should be locked up indefinitely in a place they aren’t safe.

Right now, unknown numbers of LGBTQI+ people are being held in immigration detention in the UK. They are detained without courts or judges, in prison-like conditions, and for an unlimited amount of time.

Although detention should normally only be used when someone is about to be removed from the UK, most people are eventually released – their detention having served no purpose other than to isolate and traumatise them.

For LGBTQI+ people the impact can be devastating. Detention deprives them of their freedom and cuts them off from support networks. They are bullied and discriminated against by staff and others inside, which re-traumatises those who have fled persecution. As a result many have no choice but to be in the closet to stay safe, making it harder for them to “prove” they are LGBTQI+ as part of their asylum claim.

Since 2016 the government has recognised that trans and intersex people are particularly at risk of harm and should not be detained in most circumstances. But despite the evidence of harm suffered, they won’t say the same for LGBQ people. This has to change.

Supporting people to navigate the immigration system in the community is more humane, better for their mental and physical health, and produces better outcomes for less money. But still the government locks up tens of thousands of people every year – some for months or even years on end.

Nobody should be detained indefinitely with no idea when they might be set free. And no LGBTQI+ person should be locked up and subjected to LGBTQI-phobic bullying and abuse.

Join our campaign to call for an end to LGBTQI+ detention and a 28-day time limit for all immigration detention.

Add your name to say enough is enough: it's time to end LGBTQI+ detention.

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Immigration detention is the practice of locking people up in detention centres for the purposes of “immigration control”. It’s completely separate from the criminal justice system – meaning people are detained on the decision of a Home Office official, without oversight from the courts. Crucially, there is no limit on the length of time someone can be held in detention – the UK is the only European country without a time limit. 

There are currently seven big detention centres (also known as “Immigration Removal Centres” or “IRCs”) in the UK, all run by private security companies for profit. The centres are notorious for their prison-like conditions and inadequate safeguards, and many who are detained will spend weeks, months or even years inside. The government also operates several “Short-Term Holding Facilities” as well as the IRCs. 

Despite earlier commitments to reduce the size of the detention estate, in 2022 this government announced plans to reopen two detention centres that were previously closed in Oxfordshire and Hampshire, allowing them to detain a thousand extra people. 

A Home Affairs Select Committee report published in 2019 found that “the Home Office has utterly failed in its responsibilities to oversee and monitor the safe and humane detention of individuals in the UK”. And in 2023, the chair of a public inquiry into failings at Brook House IRC stated that the environment there was “harsh” and “prison-like”, adding it was “entirely unsuitable for detaining people.” 

According to government policy, detention is usually used to: 

  • effect removal of a person from the UK; 
  • establish a person’s identity or the basis of their asylum/immigration claim; or 
  • where there is reason to believe that a person will fail to comply with any conditions attached to a grant of immigration bail. 

People in detention may be newly arrived in the UK, or people who have lived here lawfully for years. Some may have overstayed or breached the terms of their visa or had their claim for asylum refused. In September 2023, 67% of those in detention had at some stage claimed asylum in the UK. 

According to government policy, detention must be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary, but in the year ending September 2023 more than 16,000 people entered immigration detention. Some will be held there for months or even years, and in 2023, nearly 70% of people detained were released without being removed from the UK. 

We cannot say with certainty how many LGBTQI+ people are in detention as the government does not collect or monitor data on this. This has been criticised by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the Home Affairs Select Committee, as it means the government cannot monitor the effects of detention on LGBTQI+ people. 

In 2019, the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended that as well as considering all LGBTQI+ people to be particularly vulnerable to harm in detention, the Home Office should monitor and publish statistics on the number of LGBTQI+ people it detains. Neither of these recommendations has been implemented. More recently in 2023, the Women and Equalities Committee recommended that the government should collect and publish data on the protected characteristics of all detained people seeking asylum. 

At present, data on LGBTQI+ people in detention is only available via Freedom of Information requests. Our latest request revealed that at least 129 LGBTQI+ people were held in detention in 2022, but the true number is likely to be significantly higher. There were gaps in the data (e.g. certain centres only recording trans residents, not LGB) and collection was wholly reliant on voluntary disclosures from detained persons to staff. Given the dangers LGBTQI+ people face in detention centres, many are understandably frightened to draw attention to their gender identity or sexual orientation in this way.  

Recent changes in law and policy mean that the number of LGBTQI+ people in detention is likely to rise dramatically – see ‘Are things getting better or worse?’ below. 

LGBTQI+ people experience verbal and physical bullying, discrimination and abuse in detention. Sometimes this is from other people being detained, who may come from the same countries that LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum have fled. Other times it is from the staff who ought to be protecting them. This has serious effects on their mental and physical health, and self-harm and suicide attempts are sadly common. 

In September 2023 the first public inquiry into immigration detention in the UK reported that while being detained in Brook House detention centre, a gay man from Morocco had been subject to verbal homophobic abuse from the staff. The man said that he did not feel detention was an environment where it was safe to be open about his sexuality.” 

For those who have fled persecution in their home country, the experience of being locked up, or the violence they might face in detention, can cause them to re-live their trauma. It can also make it harder for them to make their case for asylum. As part of that process, people must “prove” their sexual orientation or gender identity to an official – already a nearly impossible task. Many do this by providing evidence of a life lived openly in the UK, but people in detention can’t visit LGBTQI+ venues, join support groups or attend Prides. In fact, detention is likely to force them back into the closet. Those that can’t hide their sexual orientation or gender identity in detention are at greater risk of being exposed to bullying and abuse. 

Government policy recognises that certain groups of people may be “particularly vulnerable to harm in detention”, including trans and intersex people. This creates a presumption that these groups should not be detained. However, it is still possible for “immigration control considerations” to override that presumption, in which case the Home Office may still detain trans and intersex people “if it is necessary in order to remove them”. 

Immigration detention is inhumane and expensive, causing long-term damage to the lives of those detained, tearing families apart and rarely achieving its stated aims. In fact, in the year ending September 2023, nearly 70% of people leaving detention were released back into the community rather than being removed from the UK.  

There are compassionate, community-based alternatives to detention. Two Home Office funded pilot projects that took place between 2019 and 2022 demonstrated how much better it is to support people in the community instead of detaining them. Both pilots involved giving people who might otherwise be detained personalised support and free high-quality legal advice to progress their case while living in the community. 

Independent evaluations of the two pilots found that supporting people in this way helped them to resolve their cases without the human and economic costs of detention.  

The evaluations also found that compared to detention these community-based schemes are:

  • more humane 
  • more cost-effective 
  • better for people’s mental health and wellbeing, and 
  • don’t affect compliance  

Read our blog on why this government must invest in compassionate alternatives to detention. 

Our No Safe Refuge report in 2016 showed that detention is simply not safe for LGBTQI+ people. Since then, the government has recognised that trans and intersex people are particularly at risk of harm in detention and should not be detained if possible. This recognition must be urgently extended to all LGBTQI+ people. 

But indefinite detention is not just unsafe for LGBTQI+ people, it is unjust and inhumane for everyone. The 2023 Brook House inquiry reported a total of 19 incidents of inhuman or degrading treatment in just a five-month period between April and August 2017. As well as verbal homophobic abuse by staff, the report also catalogued a deeply troubling list of issues at the centre, including a dysfunctional safeguarding system, excessive and inappropriate use of force and the use of racist and abusive language towards people detained there. 

The UK is the only country in Europe where people can be deprived of their freedom indefinitely for immigration purposes. It separates people from their families and causes long-term damage to their physical and mental health. Until the government agrees to end the practice of immigration detention in the UK, there should be a time limit ensuring no-one is detained for more than 28 days. 

All detention has a negative impact on a person’s mental health, but research has shown there is a significant rise in the severity of harm after 30 days. Based on the evidence, a 28-day time limit has been recommended by both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Home Affairs Select Committee. 

In 2023, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) carried out an inspection of immigration detention in the UK. In their subsequent report they reiterated their prior recommendation for a statutory time limit, noting the negative impact the “open-ended nature of detention caused in individuals.” They added; “the very fact that there is no maximum period of detention, and that persons may be held for several years is a trigger for becoming mentally unwell.

Unfortunately this government is determined to make things worse for LGBTQI+ and other people seeking safety in the UK. 

The Illegal Migration Act 2023 greatly extends the government’s powers to detain people, whilst simultaneously restricting their ability to challenge their detention. It will also mean people are detained for longer before they have any chance of securing bail.  

The Refugee Council have estimated that if fully implemented the legislation would lead to tens of thousands more people being detained every year. This will mean many more LGBTQI+ people being locked away, and potentially for longer. 

Following detention they could be sent to countries that are dangerous for LGBTQI+ people and where they don’t have any connections or support. Places like Rwanda, where LGBTQI+ people face discrimination and violence. 

So far, only certain provisions of this new legislation have been brought into force. However even these early changes are very troubling – for example it is now for the Home Secretary, and not the courts, to decide whether the length of someone’s detention is “reasonable”.