Powers to hold Illegal Immigrants and UK Asylum seekers entering Britain was first introduced in 1971, when the UK Immigration Act was first published. Deportation centres were first recognised as ‘detention centres’, before the name was officially changed to ‘removal centres’, after amendments were made to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002.
UK Immigration removal centres can be described as ‘holding facilities’ whereby foreign nationals are detained whilst awaiting the outcome of UK Asylum claims or awaiting deportation if a claim for UK Asylum has failed.
At present (May 2012), the UK has 12 Immigration removal centres located in various regions across the nation. The majority of these removal centres are operated by private organisations that have contractual agreements in place with the UK Border Agency. The remaining removal facilities are run by the HM Prison Service.
With the number of UK Asylum seekers reaching record high levels back in 2001, the then Labour Government, acted to provide a network of detention centres with the purpose of moving towards a situation where no UK Asylum seeker would have to be held in a UK prison.
This move came about, as prior to 2002, many detention centres were renowned for operating as prison facilities, with people facing movement restrictions in order for the government to keep track of their whereabouts whilst their cases were being reviewed. In some circumstances, UK Asylum seekers were treated like criminals and were imprisoned due to overcrowded detention centres.
However, such severe treatment of UK Asylum seekers was met with widespread condemnation from many Human Rights groups, Politicians and many others who argued that people seeking refuge in the UK should not be subjected to the same treatment as ‘ordinary’ criminals.
Therefore, in 2001, a new set of guidelines were published, known as the ‘Detention Centre Rules’, in order to tackle the issue of how these centres were being operated. These guidelines were implemented in order to ensure the humane treatment of all detainees.
These new rules outlined the basic welfare and privilege rights of detainees. For instance, a detainee’s right to have visits from family members, legal representatives and agencies, the right to food and clothing, the right to recreational time and access to educational activities and access to healthcare.
Since the implementation of these rules standards across deportation and removal centres have vastly improved. High standards of ‘service’ are now provided to all detainees regardless of their circumstances. Many facilities now have libraries, formal education classes and access to on-the-job training. Healthcare provisions have also greatly improved with dental, optical and mental health services now a standard feature of many removal centres across the UK.
Removal centres now play a vital part in maintaining control of UK Immigration numbers. The centres now serve as temporary detention facilities in situations where people have no legal right to be in the UK, but refuse to leave on a voluntary basis.
However, detainees do have the right to leave a removal centre at any time, provided they agree to return to their home nation. Yet, the fact remains that if those being held resist the law and refuse to leave the UK on voluntary grounds the UK Border Agency will take action to enforce removal.