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How UK immigration detention compares to other countries

A recent news story in The Guardian highlighted just how UK immigration detention compares to detention in Europe and elsewhere in the world. It may be surprising to learn the UK is the only EU member state not to place limits on the amount of time people can be kept in detention. The UK’s immigration detention system is one of the largest in Europe, although countries like Australia and the United States don’t have statutory time limits on lengths of immigration detention either. 

This leads critic Sam Grant, the Policy and Campaigns Manager for Liberty, to comment: “Indefinite detention is a waste of money and human life. Mental health deteriorates dramatically after just one month, but some people are held for years – and over half are released back into the community.” He believes any detention should be a last resort option and limited to no more than 28 days in total. 

Some idea of different policies on the detention of immigrants are shown below: 


For the year ending March 2018 there were 26,541 new entrants to detention centres, which is down 8% on the figures for 2017. A total of 27,429 individuals left detention in the year to March 2018. At present, there is no regulation on how long migrants can be held in detention centres, however it is generally the case that detention with the view to remove individuals from the UK is only lawful if this occurs within a reasonable timeframe. 


In Germany, it’s possible for airport authorities to hold asylum seekers from certain locations within their airport transit zone for up to 19 days. Within the detention centre arena, German detention centres hold individuals for up to six weeks while preparations for deportation are put in place and custody for up to six months is provided where there’s a need to secure deportation orders. This six month order can be increased to a maximum of 18 months if deportation orders are not achieved within required timeframes.


France had 45,937 immigration detainees in 2016, and the maximum legal length of detention is 32 days.

United States

The US has the largest immigration detention system in the world, with no time limits on the length of detention. There are 30,000 people in immigration detention every day. 


Australia uses offshore facilities to hold people in immigration detention and these are all managed by private firms. In the year 2015, 8,588 individuals were detained and there is no time limit on how long they can be held. 

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