UK ‘PRACTISING DELIBERATE POLICY OF DESTITUTION’ OF ASYLUM SEEKERS – ‘The act of claiming asylum is not a criminal offence’

Young girls with a clear message marching in London last October
Young girls with a clear message marching in London last October

‘The act of claiming asylum is not a criminal offence and should not be treated as such,’ say MPs and peers in a scathing report.

In the section ‘detention and removal’, the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report on the treatment of asylum seekers states in its conclsions and recommendations:

‘39. We are deeply concerned by the evidence we have heard about the current gap between policy and practice in relation to the detention of vulnerable adults.

‘The Home Office acknowledges that victims of torture, pregnant women and those with serious physical and mental health conditions should not be detained and yet it continues to happen in practice.

‘This is clearly a violation of the UK’s human rights obligations towards those individuals. . .

‘41. We are concerned that the current process of detention does not consider the welfare of the child, meaning that children and their needs are invisible throughout the process – at the point a decision to detain is made; at the point of arrest and detention; whilst in detention; and during the removal process.

‘We are particularly concerned that the detention of children can – and sometimes does – continue for lengthy periods with no automatic review of the decision.

‘Where the case is reviewed (for example by an immigration judge or by the Minister after 28 days), assessments of the welfare of the child who is detained are not taken into account.

‘It is difficult to understand what the purpose of welfare assessments are if they are not taken into account by Immigration Service staff and immigration judges. (Paragraph 258)

‘42. The detention of children for the purpose of immigration control is incompatible with children’s right to liberty and is in breach of UK’s international human right’s obligations.

‘Any decision to detain a child, at whatever stage of the asylum process must be compliant with international standards and subject to judicial oversight.

‘We believe that the detention of asylum seeking children constitutes a breach of the UK’s human rights obligations. Asylum seeking children should not be detained.

‘This includes detention as part of fast track or accelerated procedures for asylum determination.

Alternatives should be developed for ensuring compliance with immigration controls where this is considered necessary. (Paragraph 259)

‘43. For the fast track process, the Home Office has recognised the risks of wrongly detaining age-disputed children as adults and has revised its policy to clarify that age-disputed children must not be detained as adults in the fast track.

‘There remains a risk that age-disputed children are still detained as adults in other circumstances, such as prior to removal.

‘We recommend that the Home Office policy is further revised, so as to ensure that under no circumstances are age disputed children detained as adults. (Paragraph 260). . .

‘45. We are concerned that in the drive to increase the number of asylum seekers who are removed at the end of the asylum process and to achieve the ‘Tipping the Balance’ target which the Government has set itself, insufficient care is being paid before an asylum seeker is detained, as to whether or not he or she can actually be removed. (Paragraph 268)

‘46. We believe that current policies for the detention of asylum seekers potentially lead to human rights breaches under the European Commission on Human Rights, in particular the right to liberty under Article 5. . .

‘47. We do not believe that it is right that the decision to detain an asylum seeker – which goes to the heart of that person’s liberty – should be entirely administrative.

‘We recommend that there should be an automatic, prompt, independent judicial review of the decision to detain in all cases after seven days. (Paragraph 274)

‘48. We are concerned that there is currently no maximum time limit for which asylum seekers can be detained and that this can – and does – lead to protracted periods of detention whilst various steps are taken to secure removal.

‘In the absence of a systematic process for reviewing the decision to detain there is a significant risk that a period of detention which Immigration and Nationality Directorate initially intended to last for a few days can turn into weeks, months and even years.

‘This has a negative impact on asylum seekers and their families. (Paragraph 275). . .

The committee recommends that families with children under 18 should not be detained for more thanseven days.

The report continues:

‘51. We are not satisfied that the quality of healthcare currently provided to asylum seekers in detention is fully compliant with international human rights obligations, in particular the rights to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

‘We are particularly concerned about gaps in care for people with HIV and with mental health problems.

‘It is not clear that procedures for identifying and supporting torture victims work in practice.

‘We recommend that the Department of Health establish a policy for supervising the health services that are available in detention centres, and that the standard of services should be monitored.

‘Female GPs and other medical practitioners should be available in detention centres where women are held. (Paragraph 305)

‘52. We are concerned about the lack of information provided to detained asylum seekers about the reasons for their detention and the progress of their case.

‘This exacerbates the stress and anxiety which is inevitably associated with being detained and with uncertainty about what the future holds.

‘Some of the evidence we have received suggests that this problem is likely to get worse with the removal of case workers from Immigration Reception Centres and their replacement with administrative staff.

‘All asylum seekers should be provided with written information about the reasons for their detention. Movements around the detention estate should be minimised. (Paragraph 310)

‘53. The policy of taking people into detention, without warning, after attending interview gives the impression of requiring people to attend interviews under false pretences and can create a perverse incentive not to comply with reporting requirements for fear of immediate detention. (Paragraph 318)

‘54. We welcome the Home Office’s announcement that IND is intending to review the way in which family removals are conducted but are disappointed that over a year later the review is still in progress and no changes have yet been proposed or made.

‘We find the attitude of the Home Office towards families facing removal troubling.

‘The Government seems at a loss to understand why families at the end of the asylum process do not simply take the money made available to them to return “voluntarily” to their country of origin.

‘And yet it seems clear that for the families concerned – many of whom have been effectively made destitute and face losing their children into the care system – the fears of return are very real.

‘There is also evidence that many families are not aware that their case has come to an end until they are arrested early in the morning at their home address, and that in some cases families are detained before their case has come to an end, for example, if a fresh claim has been submitted or there is an outstanding appeal hearing. (Paragraph 328). . .

‘56. The detention of asylum seekers – particularly asylum seeking families – should be undertaken with dignity and humanity.

‘A pastoral visit should be undertaken in all cases to ensure that the family’s circumstances are fully known to the officers who will be undertaking the removal itself.

‘People should have time to collect their belongings, and to sit exams, and journeys should be as comfortable as possible. (Paragraph 330)

‘57. We understand that removal is a difficult, sometimes very difficult, process, particularly where asylum seekers do not, for a wide variety of reasons, wish to return to their country of origin.

‘We remain concerned by the many reports of excessive use of force and, in many cases, the lack access to possessions. (Paragraph 336) . . .

‘59. We are concerned that the drive to meet performance targets may be leading to unnecessary or poorly planned removals. (Paragraph 338)

Treatment by the media

‘60. We are concerned about the negative impact of hostile reporting and in particular the effects that it can have on individual asylum seekers and the potential it has to influence the decision making of officials and Government policy.

‘We are also concerned about the possibility of a link between hostile reporting by the media and physical attacks on asylum seekers. (Paragraph 349)

‘61. We recommend that the Press Complaints Commission should reconsider its position with a view to providing practical guidance on how the profession of journalism should comply with its duties and responsibilities in reporting matters of legitimate public interest and concern.

‘We emphasise that such guidance must not unduly restrict freedom of speech or freedom of the press any more than similar guidance does in the USA. (Paragraph 366)

‘62. We recommend that Ministers recognise their responsibility to use measured language so as not to give ammunition to those who seek to build up resentment against asylum seekers, nor to give the media the excuse to write inflammatory or misleading articles. (Paragraph 367)

‘63. We were pleased to learn about the positive impact of projects which aim to encourage more considered reporting of asylum seeker issues, and provide a voice for asylum seekers. . .’