Guest post by Jennifer Allsopp, Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, working on the Asylum Appeals Project. The original article, titled 'Sun, sand...and indefinite detention,' was first posted online on 3 March 2014 by Open Democracy 50.50. Since this article was written, news reports have indicated that HMP The Verne will remain a prison, with plans to open the institution as an immigration removal centre (IRC) in September 2014. Jennifer is on Twitter @JenniferAllsopp.

The thing that I don’t get is why they’re bringing them here; it’s miles away from the airport. Isn’t the point to get them on a plane home as soon as possible? Of course, if they start recruiting us to drive them, then that could be ok...

The Dorset Coast (Photo: J. Allsopp)
I’m talking to a local taxi driver about the new immigration detention centre in Weymouth, Dorset: IRC Verne. The centre, which will open at the end of March, will be the 11th centre in Britain’s growing detention state. Around 30,000 migrants are held in immigration detention in the UK annually, with space for 4,000 detainees at any one time. Verne will be Britain’s second largest detention centre after Harmondsworth, which houses 661 migrants.

Migrants in British detention centres can be held indefinitely: some for days, some for weeks and some for months or even years. They are held under the powers of the Immigration Act; in other words, locked up without committing a crime. The largest group of immigration detainees are people who have claimed asylum. Some are detained as a matter of routine as part of the asylum system. Others are undocumented, may have breached conditions of their visa or are foreign nationals who have committed a crime, served the sentence and come to the end of their sentence.’ ‘Categories are fluid’, says Ali McGinley from the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID): ‘some are newly arrived, some are in UK for very long timed, some are born here, but being detained is traumatic for anyone.’

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A community meeting to discuss IRC Verne (Photo: J. Allsopp)
As it stands, detention policies are becoming increasingly subject to political scrutiny, as seen with the 2011/2012 restrictions on the detention of migrant children. This path seems be continuing, with the Liberal Democrats boldly proposing to end indefinite detention in a migration policy paper released last week. Meanwhile, a national demonstration to oppose the Verne has been scheduled for March 22nd. As was repeated time and time again throughout the meeting: ‘the key is make the issue visible.’

There’s something jarring as I walk down the seafront after the meeting, lined with dozens of empty guest houses with manicured hanging baskets, faded balconies and ‘Welcome’ and ‘Vacancies’ signs. But there’s a buzz in the air. A discussion is beginning in Weymouth to make sense of the imminent presence of 100s of foreigners, locked up off the coast of this small and friendly town.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Allsopp J (2014) IRC Verne: The UK's Newest Immigration Removal Centre. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/irc-verne/ (accessed [date]).