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

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

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

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

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