Source: The Guardian
How many more damning reports about the treatment of asylum and immigration applicants will it take for the Home Office to act?
By David Ramsbotham, former HM chief inspector of prisons
Last week the HM chief inspector of prisons, Dame Anne Owers, published a short thematic review of gaps in the safeguards for immigration removal. It is but the latest exposure of the government's continued failure to clean up the way in which individual applicants for asylum or immigrant status are treated by the UK Border Agency (UKBA). It follows a dossier entitled Outsourcing Abuse, handed to the then home secretary Jacqui Smith just over a year ago on behalf of a number of organisations involved with immigration issues, containing details of 48 examples of excessive use of force by "escort" contractors, resulting in injuries to individuals. As a result, Dame Nuala O'Loan was commissioned to conduct an inquiry into the evidence, so far unpublished.
Last year also saw the publication of reports by the Independent Asylum Commission. One of its recommendations, all of which were shared with the UKBA before publication, was the elimination of the "culture of disbelief" – which seemed to colour official reaction either to individuals seeking asylum, or those who cite torture as a reason for not being returned to their country of origin. The fact that the shameful situation now exposed by Owers has been known to the government for some time seems to indicate that this "culture of disbelief" is still alive and well.
Winston Churchill famously said that the way in which a country treats its criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of civilisation. The most obvious way in which any country can judge the civilisation of another is by the way in which it treats its citizens. By this, many must place the UK very low down in the civilisation pecking order – and this should greatly concern anyone who cares about our international standing and reputation.
In recent years, immigration has become an emotional as well as an electoral issue, because of the numbers of people who seek sanctuary in this country; a level of demand which seems set to increase rather than decrease as the effects of climate change bite on less favoured locations. This is all the more reason for the government to put the UKBA house in order. There can be no excuse for delaying the elimination of conduct that borders on the criminal, practised in its name, particularly as so much detailed evidence has been available for so long.
I don't know what more can be done to encourage the government to get a move on. At least, it could set and publish the publication date of Dame Nuala O'Loan's report, together with a time-limited plan for the UKBA to act on the chief inspector's shaming exposures.