PRESS RELEASE: Over 350 released from immigration detention and all cases to be urgently reviewed

Detention Action Press Release
Thursday 26 March 2020
London – for immediate release

Over 350 released from immigration detention and all cases to be urgently reviewed

Yesterday the High Court heard evidence in human rights charity Detention Action’s legal challenge over the Government’s failure to safeguard all those held in UK Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) from Covid-19.

Following the hearing, the Court issued an oral judgment refusing the application for interim relief and setting out the commitments made by the Government in response to the legal challenge.

Detention Action’s challenge concerned the lawfulness of continued detention, in particular of persons with medical conditions placing them at increased risk from Covid-19, while widespread global travel restrictions prevent removals from the UK, and while conditions in detention centres present a real risk of serious harm and death resulting from an outbreak of Covid-19.

Detention Action issued judicial review proceedings on 18 March 2020. In response, the Home Office has in the last week alone released 350 people held under immigration powers. The number of people held in immigration detention has reduced dramatically, by nearly 500 people, from 1,225 on 1 January to 736 on 24 March.

In addition, the Home Office has committed to urgently review the cases of every person held in immigration detention, with a view to further releases over the coming days. The Home Office has also halted the new detentions of persons liable to administrative removal to 49 countries, including Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Albania.

Accepting evidence of the high level of risk posed by Covid-19 to these held in IRCs, the Home Office has also introduced a series of protective measures for detainees in response to the legal challenge, pending further review of their ongoing detention.

Guidance issued by the Home Office following the initiation of legal proceedings include the following protective measures:

  • Enhanced screening, identification and monitoring of those at risk or showing symptoms of Covid-19, particularly for this with underlying health conditions.
  • Ensuring that persons at increased risk from Covid-19, and persons who are symptomatic, are provided with facilities to self-isolate in single-occupancy rooms and are provided with individualised care plans
  • A review of cleaning practices within detention centres to ensure compliance with Public Health England guidance
  • Provision of anti-bacterial cleaning materials to detainees, upon request
  • The introduction of social spacing measures in communal areas
  • The production of specific guidance to explain in clear terms how to reduce the risk of an outbreak of Covid-19

Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said: “While the High Court declined to grant our interim relief, our litigation has already forced major and rapid concessions from the Government. Three hundred and fifty people released from detention in the past week; an undertaking to proactively review the detention of all those held under immigration powers according to updated guidance and with a view to further significant releases; and a very strong presumption against any new detentions for people facing removal to around 50 countries. The Government has also been forced to issue new guidance on hygiene standards in detention and to accept that detention poses high risks to those with COVID-19 relevant underlying health conditions. We will monitor the implementation of all these guarantees and continue to hold the Government to account”.


For media enquiries please contact:

Matthew Leidecker, Campaigns Manager

Spokespeople are available for broadcast interview.

Notes to editors:

1. Detention Action is a national charity established in 1993 that seeks to defend the rights and improve the welfare of people in immigration detention by combining support for individuals with campaigning for policy change. Detention Action works in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs near Heathrow Airport in London, Morton Hall IRC in Lincolnshire, and with people held under immigration powers in London prisons. We work with around 1000 individuals held in detention each year.
2. The legal challenge against the Home Secretary Priti Patel is supported by expert evidence from Prof. Coker (Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). Prof. Coker’s report is available here and supplementary report available here.
3. Detention Action is represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors, and Ayesha Christie and Chris Buttler of Matrix Chambers.