United Kingdom

Country Report: General Last updated: 10/07/24


Sonia Lenegan

When asylum seekers are detained, they are detained in immigration removal centres (IRC), usually under the same legal regime and in the same premises as other people subject to immigration detention. The centres consist of 7 IRC and 3 short-term holding facilities (STHF). The published statistics now include immigration detainees held in prisons; there were 3,311 immigration detainees held in prison at some point during 2022, but it is not known how many of these claimed asylum either prior to being detained or whilst in detention.

Detention during the asylum decision-making process is not usual although those who have arrived via the Channel are likely to be detained on arrival at Manston asylum processing centre while their asylum claim is registered and accommodation found for them.[1] People were supposed to be held there for a maximum of five days but in 2022 were spending considerably longer there, with the ICIBI finding one family who had been there for 32 days.[2]

Most asylum seekers whose claim has not yet been decided are at liberty on a status known as immigration bail. The main exception is in accelerated procedures. In non-suspensive appeal cases, although the individual is not always detained, detention is more common than in the regular procedure.

If the person is already in immigration detention when they claim asylum, whether they are then released will be determined by whether criteria for detention continue to exist after the asylum claim has been made. These are the criteria set out in the section on Grounds for Detention. Making an asylum claim does not of itself secure release.

Former asylum seekers may also be detained after their claim has been refused, in preparation for removal. Most of the content of this chapter therefore refers to former asylum seekers who are detained in preparation for removal, after final refusal of their claim.

The number of people who had sought asylum at some point during their time in the UK and have been detained in recent years is as shown in the table below. Many detainees were released during the period of the Covid-19 restrictions on travel, as the law allows for detention when removal will be possible in a specific time period.

“Asylum detainees” in the United Kingdom: 2017-2023
Detentions throughout the year Detained at the end of the year
2017 12,921 1,508
2018 13,168 1,085
2019 14,465 994
2020 9,806 438
2021 20,166 622
2022 14,227 1,159
2023 15,864 1,782

Source: Home Office, Immigration statistics, Detention summary tables Det_01. Note that this does not necessarily mean detention of asylum seekers during the course of the procedure.

Guidance was published in 2017 relating to asylum claims made from detention.[3] It is aimed at those considering asylum claims from people detained at the point of making their claim, as well as considering the detention of people during their claim. It does not replace or replicate other guidance on consideration of asylum claims; it is complementary to other guidance. UNHCR carried out an audit of these processes and published a report in 2023 and found that improvement was required in order to ensure that international standards were being met. They made several recommendations including the improvement of training, ensuring that country of origin information is used correctly, and that full justifications are recorded in support of a decision to detain.[4]




[1] UK government, ‘New secure site for processing illegal migrants’, 15 December 2021, available at:

[2] ICIBI, A reinspection of the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats, including at Western Jet Foil and Manston, June 2023, available at:  

[3] Home Office, Detained Asylum Casework (DAC) – asylum process, March 2019, available at:

[4] UNHCR, A review of decision-making in the Detained Asylum Casework Procedure, 2023, 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