The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) and has branded the tagging of a growing number of asylum seekers as a means of ‘criminalising’ the innocent.
Asylum seekers are being fitted with an electronic monitoring device around their ankles. A monitoring unit is then installed in the accommodation address where the individual resides. During periods in which the individual is required to be at home, the tag sends a signal to the monitoring unit and then to the monitoring control centre.
The move is part of the government’s New Asylum Model, to improve the authorities’ ‘Contact Management’ of asylum seekers. New measures include electronic monitoring, involving telephone reporting using voice recognition techniques, tagging and tracking. Section 36 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 allows for the electronic monitoring of those liable to be detained under immigration acts. This includes asylum seekers, illegal entrants, those found working in breach of their conditions of stay, overstayers, people subject to further examination at a port of entry, and those refused leave to enter.
The use of electronic monitoring no longer requires the consent of the individual being tagged, leading protestors to brand it as a ‘draconian’ measure. In the past, consent was not a statutory requirement, but was introduced as a matter of policy, in recognition of the novel use of electronic monitoring in the immigration context. Tony McNulty, the current minister for immigration, justified his retraction of the consensual clause by stating that, ‘asking for the subject’s consent is inconsistent with any other area of contact management. It hampered our ability to manage contact with people flexibly because the need of consent left us with very little recourse if the individual failed to give it or where, having initially agreed to be monitored electronically, they subsequently failed to comply.’ The ‘recourse’ now afforded to the Home Office is to threaten individuals with detention or re-detention if they resist tagging. Unsurprisingly, given the penalty imposed on non-conformists, McNulty has noted an increase in the numbers of asylum seekers complying with electronic monitoring.
The Refugee Council has accepted the need for contact management initiatives, such as telephone contact, but has expressed concern that ‘measures associated with criminality are being increasingly used for asylum seekers.’ The use of electronic tagging has been described as a means of further stigmatising asylum seekers and of intruding in their personal lives. The installation of a monitoring device on the ankle is undeniably an unnatural bodily intrusion and arguably an infringement of human rights. In addition, the inclusion of monitoring apparatus in the domestic realm potentially denies asylum seekers any form of normality, relaxation, or family life.
According to the NCADC, homes are gradually being transformed into detention centres and the boundary between the public and the private sphere is becoming less clear. Protestors argue that the government’s drive to curb immigration has resulted in a series of unnecessarily punitive measures and that ‘it is resorting to ever tougher measures at the expense of fairness’. IRR News spoke to a Zimbabwean asylum seeker, who wishes to remain anonymous. He has been tagged since 21 December 2005 and is currently awaiting the outcome of his asylum claim. He explained that he is monitored twice a day and is required to be in his house at certain times, reinforcing the proximity between the home and a detention centre. He highlighted the damaging consequences of such punitive action: ‘Tagging has caused me so much stress. I am being treated like a criminal when I am just an asylum seeker. Criminals who are released early from prison are subjected to the same measures as me, but I am not a criminal.’