Statement issued on the opening of Yarl's Wood detention centre from Fazil Kawani, Director of Communications at the Refugee Council:

17 Jan 2002

Refugee Council statement

"We are very concerned about the opening of Yarl's Wood detention centre. The bottom line is that it is completely unacceptable to lock up innocent people who have not committed a crime. The seriously inadequate provision of legal advice and other essential services within Yarl's Wood could result in asylum seekers being returned to a country where they may be persecuted."

"The decision to detain must not be on the say-so of an immigration official but must be accountable to the courts. We urgently appeal to the Government to immediately implement the bail provisions of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act which has been repeatedly postponed and remains one of the few parts of the act not yet enforced.

We are also particularly concerned to see that children are being detained. This is a complete u-turn on commitments made by the Government not to detain children and families until a few days prior to removal."

ENDS

Notes to editors

Yarl's Wood is in Bedfordshire, and has the capacity to hold 900 asylum seekers, as well as other immigration detainees.

Bail provisions in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
Part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 creates a system of automatic bail hearings for those detained. Detainees would have a right to hearings - the first before the tenth day of detention and, if this is unsuccessful, another before the thirty- eighth day (section 44). Part III also provides that at these hearings there will be a presumption of liberty; that unless the Home Office can show, on the balance of probabilities, that one of the exceptions to this presumption applies, detained asylum seekers must be released (section 46). It was argued this system would go some way to redressing concerns about the lack of independent review of detention.

However, bail, by definition, is a wholly insufficient guarantee against arbitrary detention because it depends on criteria other than the lawfulness of the detention, such as the availability of sureties.

Although bail hearings by their nature do not challenge the initial decision to detain, these changes were welcomed as a step in the right direction. To widespread concern, asylum seekers have yet to benefit because this is one of the few aspects of the Act yet to be implemented, despite provisional dates being put forward by the Government with repeated delays. The last Government proposed implementation date was October 2001 yet implementation is still yet to happen. An assurance from ministers that these vital safeguards will be implemented soon would be welcomed.