Dear Home Secretary,

We are writing to you, as Members of Parliament and Peers, about the use of immigration detention for women.

As has been documented by research and independent inspection reports[1], many women in immigration detention are survivors of rape and other forms of gendered violence, including domestic violence, forced marriage, female genital cutting and sexual exploitation.

Detaining women who have already survived serious violence and trauma retraumatises them, causing profound and long-lasting damage to their mental health. This is at odds with the Government’s commitment in its Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy[2] to ensure support for survivors of gender-based violence, so that they are able to recover from their experiences and rebuild their lives.

Moreover, the vast majority of women who are detained are not removed from the UK, but released back into the community to continue with their asylum and immigration cases.[3] As such, the use of immigration detention for women is not only damaging, but does not achieve its stated purpose.

A decade ago, there were over 300 women in immigration detention. Positively, in response to Stephen Shaw’s 2016 and 2018 government-commissioned reviews of vulnerable people in detention[4], the Government took concerted action to reduce the number of women detained.

This included running two alternatives to detention pilots, focused on resolving people’s cases without the use of detention. Independent evaluations of these pilots found them to be both more humane and cost effective than detention.[5]

The action taken by the Government in recent years on women’s detention has had a dramatic and welcome effect. Currently there are fewer than 100 women detained, representing a reduction of two thirds from a decade ago.

Given the low number of women in detention, and the successful work the Government has already undertaken to explore the use of alternatives to detention, we believe now is the time to go further and examine how the detention of women for immigration purposes could be ended altogether.

Taking this step would result in significant savings for the public purse, reduce harm to vulnerable women, and help ensure that all survivors of violence against women are properly supported.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon. Diane Abbott MP – Independent (Hackney North and Stoke Newington)

Lord David Alton of Liverpool – Crossbench

Baroness Joan Bakewell DBE – Labour

Apsana Begum MP – Labour (Poplar and Limehouse)

Olivia Blake MP – Labour (Sheffield, Hallam)

Paul Blomfield MP – Labour (Sheffield Central) 

Baroness Rosel Boycott – Crossbench

Ben Bradshaw MP – Labour (Exeter)

Deidre Brock MP – Scottish National Party (Edinburgh North and Leith)

Baroness Pauline Bryan of Partick – Labour

Baroness Lorely Burt of Solihull – Liberal Democrat

Ian Byrne MP – Labour (Liverpool, West Derby)

Lord Michael Cashman CBE – Labour

Sarah Champion MP – Labour (Rotherham)

Lord Tim Clement-Jones CBE – Liberal Democrat

Martyn Day MP – Scottish National Party (Linlithgow and East Falkirk)

Marion Fellows MP – Scottish National Party (Motherwell and Wishaw)

Richard Fuller MP – Conservative (North East Bedfordshire)

Baroness Angela Harris of Richmond – Liberal Democrat

Lord Hendy KC – Labour

Imran Hussain MP – Labour (Bradford East)

Kim Johnson MP – Labour (Liverpool, Riverside)

Baroness Jenny Jones – Green

Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws KC – Labour

Ben Lake MP – Plaid Cymru (Ceredigion)

Baroness Ruth Lister of Burtersett CBE – Labour

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP – Labour (Salford and Eccles) 

Caroline Lucas MP – Green (Brighton, Pavilion)

Stuart McDonald MP – Scottish National Party (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East)

Baroness Molly Meacher – Crossbench

Kate Osamor MP – Independent (Edmonton)

Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP – Labour (Streatham)

Liz Saville Roberts MP – Plaid Cymru (Dwyfor Meirionnydd)

Virendra Sharma MP – Labour (Ealing, Southall)

Tommy Sheppard MP – Scottish National Party (Edinburgh East)

Alyn Smith MP – Scottish National Party (Stirling)

Zarah Sultana MP –  Labour (Coventry South)

Alison Thewliss MP – Scottish National Party (Glasgow Central)

The Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

Nadia Whittome MP – Labour (Nottingham East)

Hywel Williams MP – Plaid Cymru (Arfon) 

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[1] See, for instance, Shaw, S. (2018) Assessment of Government Progress in Implementing the Report on the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons: A Follow-up Report to the Home Office, available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/welfare-in-detention-of-vulnerable-persons-review-progress-report; HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2015) Report on an Unannounced Inspection of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (13 April–1 May 2015), available from https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/08/Yarls-Wood-web-20151.pdf; Women for Refugee Women (2015) I Am Human: Refugee Women’s Experiences of Detention in the UK and (2017) We Are Still Here: The Continued Detention of Women Seeking Asylum in Yarl’s Wood, available from https://www.refugeewomen.co.uk/campaign/research/

[2] Home Office (2021) Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tackling-violence-against-women-and-girls-strategy

[3] The most recent quarterly immigration statistics, published in December 2023, show that 62% of all women leaving detention were released back into the community, to continue with their cases. For women seeking asylum the release rate is even higher, with around 85-90% of asylum-seeking women released back into the community to continue with their cases (these figures are not published as part of the quarterly immigration statistics, but have been supplied by the Home Office to the charity Women for Refugee Women).

[4] Shaw, S. (2016) Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons: A Report to the Home Office, available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-into-the-welfare-in-detention-of-vulnerable-persons; Shaw, S. (2018) Assessment of Government Progress in Implementing the Report on the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons: A Follow-up Report to the Home Office.

[5] NatCen (2022) Evaluation of ‘Action Access’, an Alternatives to Detention Pilot, available from https://www.unhcr.org/media/evaluation-action-access-pilot; NatCen (2023) Evaluation of the Refugee and Migrant Advice Service’s Alternative to Detention Pilot, available from https://www.unhcr.org/media/evaluation-refugee-and-migrant-advice-service-s-alternative-detention-pilot