Beyond Abu Qatada: New research debunks mythical ‘crisis’ of foreign prisoners


In the latest hysteria over foreign prisoners in the UK, the Tory-led government was yesterday threatening to ‘temporarily withdraw’ from the European Convention on Human Rights so as to overcome legal barriers to the deportation of radical Islamic preacher Abu Qatada.[1] At the same time, the latest prison statistics by the Ministry of Justice, published today, show that the number of foreigners held in British jails has actually declined.[2]

An investigation by Stop Deportation and Corporate Watch reveals that even these figures are inflated by over 10% because the MoJ statisticians misleadingly include migrants held in prisons solely under immigration powers and on remand as foreign national prisoners. Even more shocking is the inclusion in the FNP count of detainees held in three immigration detention centres run by the Prison Service.

The new research, published today,[3] exposes the myth that British prisons are overcrowded with foreign criminals who the government is powerless to deport. The key findings include:

  • In-depth analysis of official data shows that, of the 10,861 so-called foreign national prisoners held in England and Wales on 30th June 2012, 1,140 were in fact immigration detainees held solely under administrative immigration powers and not serving a criminal sentence. These include people held in three immigration detention centres run by the Prison Service (Dover, Haslar, Lindholme), which are counted as prisons. Their inclusion had the effect of inflating the FNP figure by 10.5%.
  • The much-cited rise in the proportion of foreign nationals held in British jails since 2001 was in part due to a sharp increase in the number of migrants detained under Immigration Act 1971 powers.
  • Foreign prisoners are now twice as likely to be held on remand than British prisoners, which further distorts the proportion of foreign nationals in the prisoners count.
  • A detailed examination of the types of offences and sentences shows that foreign prisoners are less likely to be convicted for violence or stealing offences than British inmates, are no more likely to commit sexual offences but are more likely to be convicted for drug offences.
  • The UK Border Agency has often claimed that charter flights are “vital to ensure we remove foreign criminals and individuals who refuse to leave the UK voluntarily.” Yet previously unpublished data reveals that there is almost no correlation between the nationalities of foreign prisoners and the destinations of deportation charter flights. Over 80% of removals by charter flight in 2012 did not involve foreign national offenders. Indeed, the charter flight programme was originally intended to deport rejected asylum seekers and had nothing to do with foreign national prisoners.
  • Despite secretive meetings of a ‘FNP Board’, formed of senior civil servants from the UKBA and the MoJ, which is mandated to review the progress of the charter flight programme, Freedom of Information requests reveal that no formal evaluation documents have ever been produced.

The briefing’s authors, Phil Miller from Stop Deportation and Shiar Youssef from Corporate Watch, said:

“The foreign prisoners ‘crisis’ was a myth motivated by a xenophobic agenda. The legal changes that allowed the double punishment of foreign nationals by deporting them after they have served their sentences were largely based on a lie. The British public have for years been deceived by inaccurate statistics that conflate foreign national prisoners with foreign national offenders, and mysteriously count some immigration detainees as prisoners and some immigration detention centres as prisons. Now this unfounded ‘crisis’ is being used as a convenient political tool to justify the controversial mass deportation flights by associating the programme with the ‘urgent need’ to deport ‘large volumes’ of foreign national prisoners. They are an invisible enemy, personified by the hated figure of Abu Qatada.”


[1] See, for example,,–but-it-could-take-months-8586035.html, and

[2] Available at–2.

[3] The full briefing is available at