Seeking asylum is not a crime

Seeking asylum is not a crime


Written by: Harmit Athwal

A new report by Amnesty International (AI) calls on the government to ‘justify the lawfulness of detention’ of each and every single asylum seeker in the UK. AI concludes that in many cases the detention of asylum seekers is ‘protracted, inappropriate and disproportionate’.

The report, Seeking asylum is not a crime: Detention of people who have sought asylum, which was compiled after AI visited detention centres across the UK and interviewed asylum seekers, makes damning reading. AI found that ‘the detention of people who have sought asylum in the UK remains a hidden plight’, with the asylum system in chaos.

AI recommends that asylum seekers should only be detained in the most exceptional circumstances and that failed asylum seekers should only be detained if the authorities can show there is a risk of absconding. There should be no detention of vulnerable people, such as torture survivors, pregnant women, those with serious medical conditions, the mentally ill and the elderly. Nor should unaccompanied children be detained. AI also calls on the government to abandon plans to increase the capacity of the detention estate.

The report raises serious concerns about the fast-track procedures at Harmondsworth, Oakington and Yarl’s Wood. ‘Any presumption that asylum claims may be deemed “unfounded” solely on the basis of the country from which asylum is being sought – as is currently the case with the list of “safe countries”, the so-called “White List” – must be abandoned’.

Key findings
  • Fast-track asylum-determination procedures are unjust where premised on detention;
  • Detention is arbitrary because it is a lottery dependent on the availability of beds within the detention estate, rather than based on considerations of necessity, proportionality and appropriateness;
  • Detained asylum seekers are often unable to pursue their asylum claim and/or challenge the lawfulness of their detention effectively because they are either poorly legally advised and represented, or because they have had no legal representation and advice at all;
  • Remote locations of some centres mean that that are difficulties in maintaining contact with the outside world;
  • Focus on forced returns has resulted in policy changes to allow for the enforced removal and detention of vulnerable groups whose removal from the UK was previously not enforced. (In October 2001, policy was changed to allow for longer periods of detention for children in families and in September 2004, it was announced that those aged 65 or over would not be exempt from attempts to remove them from the UK);
  • A notable lack of transparency in relation to the exact number of those detained throughout the year, once their asylum claim has been dismissed and about the length of their detention;
  • Home Office quarterly statistics belie the true scale of the detention of asylum seekers;
  • Asylum seekers are not promptly given up-to-date, accurate, impartial, detailed and well-reasoned information regarding their asylum claims, their detention and about the legal avenues available to them to seek to regain their freedom.

Related links

Amnesty International

Full text of the Seeking asylum is not a crime: Detention of people who have sought asylum (pdf file, 565kb)

To read a copy of Seeking asylum is not a crime: Detention of people who have sought asylum click on the link above.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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