Detention and deportation: how you can help

Detention of refugees and asylum seekers is used by countries across the world in an attempt to manage migration, but this strategy comes with a heavy cost.

Detention and deportation is expensive, inefficient and inhumane. Men, women and even children are deprived of their liberty and often forced to live in appalling conditions.

What’s wrong with detention?

Most people who are detained feel like they are treated as criminals, even though they have not committed a crime.

People often do not know why they have been detained, when they will be released, nor can they regularly communicate with family, friends and relatives.

Detention damages people’s physical and mental wellbeing.

The harm caused by such lengthy deprivations of liberty is compounded by the fact that those claiming asylum are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the general population.

Victims of torture, sexual or gender-based violence, human trafficking and modern slavery, continue to be detained in unacceptable conditions, lacking the specialised support that they require, for prolonged amounts of time.

Detention may appear to be a simple solution to help manage migration, but in reality, there is a huge financial and moral cost.

In 2016, combined detention enforcement agencies cost the US government $19 billion. In the UK, it costs taxpayers over £100 million annually.

In addition to the financial cost, detention has lasting effects on those detained, and has resulted in a number of unlawful deportations of people back to unsafe countries – which, in some cases, has led to the death of the person deported.

What can you do to help

If you know someone in detention, or are aware of someone currently in detention, it can be a frightening and overwhelming experience. But there are things you can do to help.

Thousands march to demand that Yarl’s Wood detention centre is closed down. Image: Right to Remain

If someone is at risk of deportation, what can you do?

Though no one ever wants to experience this first hand, if you or someone you know is expecting to be deported, undergoing deportation, or has received removal orders, it’s really important to be prepared.

It is strongly recommended that anyone experiencing detention, and the threat of deportation, work with an immigration lawyer. Refugees and migrants with a lawyer are reportedly 6 times more likely to prevail in deportation proceedings than those without.

Here’s some more advice on what you can do to help, originally posted Right to Remain.

  • Airline campaigning

This is a last-minute action that may be possible if someone has been issued with a “courtesy letter” that gives details of the removal/deportation flight.

Taking action for the right to remain cannot just be about stopping a flight – if contacting the airline successfully stops the flight, this may buy some time for other actions to be taken and for legal avenues to be pursued.

Your supporters can contact the airline, explain you are being taken against your will and why you should not be taken from the UK, and ask the airline not to accept you on the flight.

Read more here.

  • Contact your MP

This action is more likely to succeed if you are already in contact with your MP about your case. Your MP may be able to contact the Home Office directly (asking to speak to or meet with the Home Secretary or Immigration Minister specifically if necessary) and ask them to cancel the removal/deportation while important legal actions are taken.

Read more here.

  • Prepare yourself for return

It is hard to allow yourself the space and the time to think about what will happen if you are removed/deported. It is hard for both the person facing removal/deportation, and supporters, because it can feel like admitting defeat before the fight is over. But some people may find it helpful to think through what might happen, and what they can do to prepare themselves.

Read more here.


Compassion and understanding should be at the heart of our immigration and asylum policies. Instead, the detention of refugees and migrants is a manifestation of systemic disregard for the wellbeing of vulnerable individuals.  Until an alternative is implemented, it will continue to produce heartbreaking and unnecessary consequences.


There are lots of incredible organisations working tirelessly to end detention and deportations. If you’d like to find out more information, visit Detention ActionFreed Voices, the Detention ForumSDS and Right to Remain to name a few.