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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Complete review of UK detention policies urged

Source: - 8 July

The Independent Asylum Commission will recommend that the UK conducts a ‘root and branch review’ of its detention policies, and that it should stop detaining the children of asylum seekers entirely, when it publishes its final report, Deserving Dignity, on Thursday 10th July.

Deserving Dignity – the Commission’s third report of recommendations – marks the end of the most comprehensive enquiry into asylum in the UK ever undertaken and makes over 90 recommendations to the UK Border Agency to improve the way they treat people seeking sanctuary. The Commission’s report, built on an evidence-base of hundreds of interviews and testimonies identifies a number of areas where the dignity of those who seek sanctuary is currently compromised – especially in detention centres, and in the treatment of particularly vulnerable asylum seekers such as children and torture survivors – and calls for urgent action to remedy the situation.

An estimated 2,000 children of asylum seekers are detained in the UK every year, and although the UK Border Agency is piloting alternatives to detention, the practice continues. The Deserving Dignity report calls for the end of the detention of children, a view supported by a majority of the British public (53%) in an opinion poll released alongside the report. The Commission also calls for the UK Border Agency to “treat children as children”, by ensuring that their best interests are paramount, and by piloting a guardianship programme for young people seeking sanctuary in the UK without their parents.

The Commissioners also warn against the use of X-rays to assess the age of young asylum seekers and urge the government to repeal legislation that can be used to deny support to families of refused asylum seekers and to take their children into care.

Following a recent government announcement that the number of detention centres will increase, the Deserving Dignity report recommends that there should be an independent root and branch review of the detention of asylum seekers, from the starting point that detention is appropriate only for those who pose a threat to national security or where there is absolutely no alternative to effect return.

The team of twelve Commissioners, including former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, argues that the basic safeguards that exist in the criminal system should be applied to detention and that detention should be time-limited, for clearly stated reasons, and subject to judicial oversight. The Commissioners also suggest that the Detained Fast Track asylum process should be phased out because it is unfair, contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention, and can lead to unjust decisions.

Deserving Dignity makes a number of recommendations to ensure that women, torture survivors, those with health needs and LGBT asylum seekers are treated with dignity. It suggests that survivors of torture, sexual abuse or other forms of trauma should be clearly identified as ‘at risk’ during their passage through the asylum system in order to avoid detention and the Fast Track process.

The Commissioners also urge the government to allow those who seek sanctuary in the UK to support themselves through work if their case takes longer than six months to resolve. The opinion poll released alongside the report shows that 51% of the public support people seeking sanctuary being able to work while their claim is being processed.

Commenting on Deserving Dignity, Commission Co- chair Sir John Waite, formerly a High Court Judge and a past Chair of UNICEF UK, said:

“All those who seek sanctuary in the UK deserve to be treated with a dignity over which mere administrative convenience must never prevail. The people we met during our review were not the scroungers, troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells that are presented to us in media stereotypes, but decent people trying to maintain their dignity in difficult circumstances.”

“The way we treat the most vulnerable in our midst is a true gauge of our values as a nation and a people. The public rightly expects fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers, befitting of a civilised society. Our review has found that there is a considerable distance to travel until the reality of how we treat women, children and torture survivors who seek sanctuary in the UK matches that aspiration. We hope that policy-makers will take note and look again at ending practices such as the detention of children. I hope we can all find common ground in agreeing that, whatever happens, the best interests of the child must be paramount.”

Ifath Nawaz, President of the Association of Muslim Lawyers and Commission Co-chair, said:

“We think that depriving a person of their liberty – particularly if they have not committed a crime – is an extremely serious issue. And the public agrees: 70% of the public think that people should not be detained unless they have committed a crime or are a risk to society. And yet a person who is seeking sanctuary from persecution can be detained without time-limit and without judicial oversight. That is why we think there should be an independent root and branch review of detention, that the government should be investing more in alternatives to detention, and the whole process should be more transparent and accountable.”

The Deserving Dignity report is due to be released on Thursday, July 10th at the ‘Refugee Rights and Realities in Wales’ conference organised and hosted by Swansea University’s Centre for Migration Policy Research.

Archbishop of Canterbury and NGO Statements of Support for Commissions Deserving Dignity Report


The Independent Asylum Commission today welcomed the following statements issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Children’s Society, Barnardo's, The Scottish Refugee Council, The Welsh Refugee Council and the Immigration Advisory Service in support of the Deserving Dignity Report.

Statement From The Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Supports Calls for End to Detention of Children Seeking Asylum

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has today supported the findings of the Independent Asylum Commission, which calls for more humane and dignified treatment for those seeking sanctuary in the UK.

Commenting on the Commission’s report ‘Deserving Dignity’, the Archbishop drew particular attention to the need to use detention more sparingly and to end detention as a means for dealing with children seeking asylum.

The Archbishop said:

“This is an important report that makes sensible and clear recommendations about how we should be treating some of the most vulnerable people in society. I cannot but support the calls within the report for a root and branch review of the detention of asylum seekers, having witnessed first hand the conditions inside our immigration detention centres and heard the often heartrending stories of those held there.

“Many Anglican chaplains serve the spiritual and emotional needs of asylum seekers within detention centres. They have seen the scars, both figurative and literal, left by torture and abuse on people, who are currently deprived of liberty, even though they have broken no laws and pose no threat to our society.

“The continuing use of detention for children seeking asylum- the most exposed of an already vulnerable group - needs to end. The best interests of the child should always be paramount in the administration of our immigration system and I hope that the Borders and Immigration Agency will consider carefully whether the status quo fulfils this. It can never be justifiable for a child to be detained because the system is not equipped to meet their needs.

“The administration of our borders is a difficult task, which doesn’t lend itself to easy solutions. However, how we keep in focus the humanity and dignity of the subject of immigration control must remain central to all those framing policy in this area. The needs of those who have been subject to torture, sexual abuse or other kinds of trauma can and should be better met, and there are sharp questions to be asked about how far detention or fast-tracking of cases currently achieves this.

“’Deserving Dignity’ is an apt title for this report. The dignity that each of us expect and deserve as human beings and which we owe to our neighbours, cannot be wholly at the mercy of the pressures of effective border control. Alternatives to detention in cases where there is no threat to national security or real risk of absconding - as outlined in this report - need to be considered carefully and without the hysteria or preconceptions so often accompanying debates of this kind.”

“I am grateful to the Independent Asylum Commission for the thoroughness and expertise it has brought to bear on this difficult subject. Over the last two years, it has shown great care and balance in its recording of the reality of life for those seeking asylum in the UK. Its recommendations, in this report and the two that preceded it, should be considered very seriously by all of us, not only those in charge of our immigration system.”

Statement from The Children’s Society

Re: Deserving Dignity: The Independent Asylum Commission's Third Report of Conclusions and Recommendations
By: Lisa Nandy, Policy Advisor

"The Children’s Society supports the Independent Asylum Commission’s calls for alternatives to detention. This is no place for a child. Our direct work with child asylum seekers confirms that many are often placed in detention - in 2006 at least 1235* refugee children were locked up.

“The UK Border Agency’s assertion that children are only detained as a last resort runs contrary to our experience. As a charity committed to ending detention for all child asylum seekers we want greater clarity on who is being detained, for how long and why. Later this year we will be jointly launching a national programme with Bail for Immigration Detainees to end the detention of refugee children."

Statement from Barnardo's

Responding to ‘Deserving Dignity’ - the final report by the Independent Asylum Commission (IAC) into the treatment of those seeking refuge in the UK, Martin Narey, Chief Executive, Barnardo’s said:

“This report illustrates how families and children who have been seeking sanctuary in the UK for many years are driven into destitution”

“Ironically many of these Asylum seekers have real skills and are desperate to pay for their own keep and to contribute through taxation to the country that has taken them in. Denying them the right to work condemns them and particularly their children to a life of misery and despair.”

“The Government must change its policy to allow asylum seekers whose case has not been resolved within six months the ability to use their skills and pay their way. They seek only the right to give their children a better life and recover some dignity for themselves.”

“The current situation is a stain on our moral authority as a nation.”

Statement from Scottish Refugee Council

John Wilkes, chief executive, Scottish Refugee Council said:

“Scottish Refugee Council welcomes this latest report by the Independent Asylum Commission, particularly its recommendations around children.

Children should never be detained for the purposes of immigration. This position is supported by the Scottish government and Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, who seek to respect the rights of every child in Scotland, regardless of their immigration status.

We urge Westminster to adopt this position and to take heed of this and the report’s other recommendations, which will enable them to fulfil their international obligations to asylum seekers and refugees.”

Statement from Welsh Refugee Council

Commenting on Deserving Dignity, Mike Lewis, Chief Executive of the Welsh Refugee Council, said:

“Every individual seeking sanctuary should be treated with dignity, but especially those from the particularly vulnerable groups that this report looks at. The Commission has uncovered the way that the asylum system treats children, women and torture survivors is far from fair and humane.

Depriving people of their liberty – especially children – is not acceptable. We hope that policy makers will look at these findings and stop practices such as the detention of asylum seekers. Welsh Refugee Council fully supports the Commission’s findings and recommendations.”

Statement from Immigration Advisory Service

“The report form the Independent Asylum Commission “Deserving Dignity” is a wake-up call for the Government and the British people. Its conclusions are indisputable as they are based on detailed evidence and analysis – something which consistently has been lacking in the approach by Government to its changes in immigration legislation. If Britain is to regain its international reputation as a country which is fair and humane, despite the Government being found wanting in the courts on human rights issues relating to immigration and asylum, then the messages must be heeded.

First, those who have committed no criminal offence should not be detained without cogent reason which is not the case at present. Secondly, the condemnation to a life of deliberate destitution of people who cannot be returned to their country of origin besmirches the name of Britain and lays us open to criticisms usually reserved for dictatorial tyrannies around the world. We should be helping such highly talented people to enhance their skills so that when they return to their countries of origin they can help to rebuild them and have a fond memory of the assistance they received while in the UK. This is especially true of the Zimbabweans currently in the UK. The report identifies the obscenity of the Government’s indifference to children who have fled from persecution.

The Government needs to learn the lesson that pandering to the prejudices of the tabloid media is not acting in the best interests of the UK or according to the wishes of the majority of British people, as opinion polls show. Anyone reading this report should feel a sense of anger and shame and send a clear message to the Government that present policies need to change. “Not in my name” should be the clarion call which reaches the ears of Government. Humanity should be applied to all.”


Interim Finding 7.At the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers in the asylum system
  • Finding 7.1 –  At the treatment of LGBT asylum seekers in the asylum system
  • Finding 7.2 –  That some ‘white-list’ countries, such as Jamaica, recognised as ‘safe’ may not be so for LGBT asylum seekers
  • Finding 7.3 –  That LGBT asylum-seekers may be slow to ‘come out’ and so have difficulty providing evidence to substantiate their claim
  • Finding 7.4 –  That LGBT detainees are not adequately protected in detention
UKBA response:
All detained individuals are risk-assessed for any special factors or risk and issues such as the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals will be contained in the country specific operational guidance notes. An individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity are naturally a private matter for them. Nevertheless, all detainees regardless of sexual orientation/gender identity are subject to the same degree of safety and security whilst detained in our removal centres. There are systems in place to ensure this is the case, including anti-bullying strategies and Assessment Care in Detention and Teamwork (ACDT). Countries are designated under Section 94 of the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 where they are in general free from persecution and are safe for most people. There is no assumption that all claims from people entitled to reside in the listed countries will be refused and certified. Each claim is considered on its individual merits and will only be certified as clearly unfounded if is found to be so after careful consideration of all the relevant evidence by specially trained caseworkers. The High Court found (in the case of Husan), that the approach taken by UKBA in deciding whether a claim was clearly unfounded was not materially different
depending on whether or not the claimant was from a designated state Commissioners’ assessment: The concern of the Commissioners is that certain countries may be considered safe for most returnees, but that particular groups, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people may be at particular risk. Where such risk exists, whether acknowledged or not, information about a detainee’s sexuality could be used by others, including other returned asylum seekers, to pressurise them in detention or to harm them on their return. UKBA and IRC staff need to be alert to such fears and dangers and rigorously to respect confidentiality and privacy.  

Recommendations 7.5: The Commissioners therefore recommend:
  • 7.5.1 – That specific guidelines for UKBA case owners on the sensitivities of handling the cases of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender asylum seekers should be developed.
  • 7.5.2 –  That Country of Origin Information should be improved accurately to assess the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers from countries such as Iran, and otherwise safe countries such as Jamaica.
  • 7.5.3 –  That there should be an assessment of the risks to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers in detention.

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