A System of Asylum Without Detention?

By Saxon Norgard, Associate Editor 1 Mar 2017
Immigration, Privacy

It could be cheaper, more effective and less inhumane to stop detaining asylum seekers, according to a new report from Women for Refugee Women.

Drawing on the experiences of women who have sought or are seeking asylum, the group argues for a new system without detention.

Women in immigration detention

Most of the women interviewed had experienced sexual or other gender-based violence in their home country, leading them to seek refuge in the UK. Yet when they arrived, many were detained without knowing whether or when they might be released.

Detention, which takes place in centres such as Yarl’s Wood, was described as invasive and undignified. Women are routinely watched whilst showering, using the bathroom and getting changed – often by male guards who burst into their rooms without warning. For many, this provokes traumatic memories of the very experiences they hoped to escape. One in five reported having attempted suicide whilst in detention, and 40 percent said they had self-harmed.

This trauma is exacerbated by the fact that immigration detention in the UK can be indefinite. This leaves many refugees facing an uncertain future and the possibility of long-term detention whilst their case is reviewed. This harm and trauma is largely pointless –  84 percent of women refugees placed in detention are ultimately released back into the community.

A system without detention in practice

The report advocates for a system based on support and engagement, rather than detention and investigation. Those seeking asylum would be assigned a case manager who can assess the individual’s needs and support them through the application process. This would ensure people seeking asylum not only understand how the process works but can engage with it and put forward their strongest possible case.

The case manager can also provide support by:

  • Creating a link between the person seeking asylum, their legal representatives and the authorities
  • Preparing them to deal with all possible outcomes
  • Assisting them to find medical care or counselling services if needed

This approach is based on a relationship of trust between the refugee and their case manager and ensures that they are not just a bystander in their application for asylum.

According to the report, support and engagement can drastically reduce the need for immigration detention in a number of ways. By making sure that people seeking refuge understand the process and feel as though they have had a fair hearing, they are far more likely to accept an outcome where their application is refused. Having a case manager who prepares them for such a possibility will increase the chance that they return to their home country, rather than attempting to stay and ending up in prison.

In Sweden, where this type of system is used, around 3,500 people were detained in 2015. In comparison, 32,400 were locked up in the UK.

Asylum detention and human rights

Article 5 of the Human Rights Convention protects the right to liberty and security. This applies to everyone in the UK regardless of they came from and can be enforced through the Human Rights Act. It means you cannot be locked up arbitrarily. This right can be limited, such as when the authorities are attempting to lawfully deport a person who has been denied asylum.

Last year a challenge was brought against the UK’s immigration policy, which does not limit the time a person can be kept in immigration detention. Whilst the European Court of Human Rights did not agree UK policy violated the right to liberty, they did emphasise the need to have a procedure which avoids the risk of arbitrary detention.

You can read Women for Refugee Women’s full report here.

Follow the links below for more on refugees, immigration and human rights:

Featured image © European Commission DG ECHO, used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. First image © Darren Johnson, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Licence. Second image from

About The Author

Saxon Norgard Associate Editor

Saxon is one of RightsInfo's volunteer Site Editors and a future trainee solicitor in London. Originally hailing from Australia, his interests lie in family law, international affairs and human rights.

Saxon is one of RightsInfo's volunteer Site Editors and a future trainee solicitor in London. Originally hailing from Australia, his interests lie in family law, international affairs and human rights.