Can you imagine being locked up in a strange place without family or friends? You may have little understanding of the system or even the language. You could have been detained with only the clothes you stand up in.


​Sadly, that is often the reality for people held in immigration detention.


What’s worse, unlike the rest of Europe, the UK has no time limit on how long someone can be detained. Government guidelines say that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary. In reality, however, people are often imprisoned for long periods – for months and sometimes for years, without knowing when they will be released.


Understandably, this de-humanising situation makes people feel frightened, isolated and depressed. They have no idea what is going to happen to them or when.

On top of this, detainees can be vulnerable, isolated and frightened. Many of the people we support are victims of trafficking, torture, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or physical and sexual violence and abuse. They may be at risk of persecution in their own country for their sexual orientation or religion. They may be self-harming, suicidal, have post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues.

​Many are also young, speak no English, and know no-one in this country. They are held for an indefinite time, many don't have legal representation and understand little about the legal system. New to the UK or here for many years, the experience of detention can be traumatic and can have a long-term detrimental effect on their mental health.

"I am still dealing with the trauma of detention and feel damaged from my time there. I continued to have psychotherapy after more than one year. I feel depressed at times and am learning to live with the post-trauma stress. Every time I have to go to the reporting station, I continue to feel scared that I may be re-detained and cry when I come out."

​If you or anyone you know is currently detained in Yarl's Wood IRC, please get in touch to find out how we can help.

If you have some time to spare and would like to help us, please click here to find out how.

Some detention figures


  • Around 30,000 people are detained each year in the UK.

  • In 2017, 225 people were detained for more than a year and 31 people for more than two years

  • Yarl's Wood IRC can hold up to 400 people in prison-like conditions.

  • The 243 women we visited in 2017/18 were detained for an average of 86.5 days.

  • Only  23% of people detained in Yarl's Wood in 2017 were returned to their country of origin – posing the obvious question: why were they were detained in the first place? 

We offer befriending support to people held in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, aiming to reduce their isolation, reinforce their self-esteem and affirm their human dignity.

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