Place of detention

United Kingdom

Country Report: Place of detention Last updated: 21/06/21


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Immigration Removal Centres (IRC)


There are currently 7 Immigration Removal Centres (IRC) where immigration detention is implemented:


Immigration Removal Centres
IRC Population detained Capacity Occupancy end 2018 Occupancy end 2019 Occupancy end 2020
Harmondsworth Men 615 447 394 478
Yarl’s Wood Women[1] 406 159 133 238
Dungavel House Men; women 217 61 42 112
Tinsley House Men; families 154 57 54 0[2]
Brook House Men 448 240 230 304
Morton Hall Men 392 216 232 413
Colnbrook Men; women (limit 8) 420 199 169 265
Total   2,652 1,379 1,254 1,810[3]


Source: Home Office


Short-Term Holding Facilities (STHF)


There are currently 3 residential Short-Term Holding Facilities (STHF), which can hold detainees for up to seven days, in addition to a small facility in Yarl’s Wood, where some people are detained for screening. Many airports or reporting centres have short term holding facilities where people are held under detention powers for up to 24 hours.


Short-Term Holding Facilities
STHF Capacity Occupancy end 2018 Occupancy end 2019 Occupancy end 2020
Colnbrook 8 2 6 16
Larne House 19 3 5 0
Manchester 32 4 13 6
Total 59 9 24 22


Source: Home Office, Immigration statistics: Q4 2020, Detention (capacity courtesy of AVID detention)




At the end of December 2020,1,661 359 individuals were detained under Immigration Act powers in prisons in England and Wales.[4] It is not recorded whether any and if so how many of these people had at any point claimed asylum. Asylum seekers are normally detained in immigration removal centres (IRC) in preparation for removal together with other third-country nationals who are there for immigration reasons. They are not detained in prisons purely in order to process an asylum claim or to remove them after they have been refused asylum.

If someone who is serving a prison sentence claims asylum, including if they do so in response to a decision to deport them, they may continue to be detained in prison while their asylum claim is processed. There is no data presently available on the extent of this. The practice of holding immigration detainees in prison is problematic, as detainees in prison experience much greater barriers to accessing legal advice and basic information about their rights, particularly in isolated local prisons. There is no regular advice surgery as there is in the IRC, and detention of a person held under immigration powers in a prison is not governed by the Detention Centre Rules and Orders. This means that the detainee may have legal advice on their asylum claim if they can contact an adviser outside the prison, and if necessary obtain legal aid to fund the advice, but there is no on-site access to asylum advice.

There is an agreement between the National Offender Management Service and the Home Office for immigration detainees up to a specified limit (presently 600) to be held in the prison estate. Detention policy specifies the criteria for detaining a person in a prison for immigration reasons after they have served their criminal sentence, but the policy allows for people to be detained in prison ‘before’ consideration is given to transferring them to an IRC – thus allowing continued detention in prison without an obligation promptly to transfer to an IRC. It also expressly provides that, if prison beds available for immigration detention are not filled by those in the risk categories, those beds should be filled by immigration detainees who do not meet the criteria for detention in prison.[5]


A court case in 2019 established that it is not necessary for the safeguards for vulnerable immigration detainees in prisons to be equivalent to those in Immigration Removal Centres.[6]



[1]        The purpose of Yarl’s Wood changed during 2020 from holding women to men.

[2]        Tinsley House has temporarily ceased to hold immigration detainees.

[3]       An additional 1,661 held in prisons.

[4]        Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID), Prison statistics, available at:

[5]        Home Office, Enforcement Instructions and Guidance, Chapter 55.10.1.

[6]      MR (Pakistan) and ors, EWHC 3567 (Admin), Case No: CO/2701/2018 & CO/4233/2018, 20 December 2020, available at: .

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection