Minister vows to review routine use of prison to detain asylum seekers

    The government has pledged to tackle Northern Ireland’s practice of
    detaining asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers in
    prisons.

    Lord Rooker, the minister of state for regeneration and regional
    development, told the House of Lords last week that the government
    would try to achieve a “satisfactory solution” to the
    problem.

    He made the pledge during the third reading of the Asylum and
    Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Bill after admitting he
    had been unaware of the issue, which was brought to light by a
    study by the Refugee Action Group.

    The coalition of refugee and human rights campaigners found that
    there had been more than a doubling in the number of asylum seekers
    imprisoned in Northern Ireland, from 19 between March 2002 and
    February 2003 to 48 in the following 12 months.

    While a small number of asylum seekers are detained in prisons
    across the UK when detention centres are full, in Northern Ireland
    prisons are used straight away due to the lack of any alternative
    immigration detention facilities.

    “Detention should be used much less than it is,” said Patrick
    Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director for Amnesty
    International, who would like to see the use of prisons abolished
    and replaced with arrangements where asylum seekers would remain
    living in their communities. “People are being detained who are not
    going to abscond.”

    Campaigners have also warned that government plans to
    electronically tag asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers could
    breach human rights.

    Ministers are planning to run tagging pilots in England, Wales and
    Scotland starting in the autumn, depending on when the asylum bill
    becomes law.

    “We have got very serious human rights concerns on tagging asylum
    seekers,” said Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights
    organisation Liberty, adding that this would be the first time
    tagging had been used outside the criminal justice system in the
    UK.

    – Measuring Misery, Detention of Asylum Seekers in Northern
    Ireland
    , from 028 9064 3000

    More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.