In a new report, Amnesty International UK have said the government is breaking the law by locking up too many asylum seekers before their claims are dealt with.
The organisation suspects that over 25,000 people who have sought asylum in the UK, including women and children, were detained solely under Immigration Act powers in 2004. With no annual figure provided by the government, Amnesty challenged the government to reveal how many people who have sought asylum are detained each year and for how long.
The report, UK: Seeking asylum is not a crime: Detention of people who have sought asylum, also shows that detention is in many cases protracted, inappropriate, disproportionate and unlawful. It says many of these were vulnerable, such as pregnant women, families with children and torture victims. The organisation called on the Government to justify the lawfulness of detention in each case.
The Home Office said detention powers were essential to ensure effective immigration controls.
Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee council said ‘ “If the concern is to maintain contact with people during their asylum claim there are perfectly straightforward ways of doing this through reporting and similar requirements without resorting to the arbitrary and unlawful use of detention.
“Nobody should be detained unless there is substantial evidence to prove it is absolutely necessary. There should be a maximum time limit for detention, the ability to challenge the decision to detain, and children should never be detained.”
One of the main concerns is locking up people who have committed no crime. Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“Seeking asylum is not a crime, it is a right. Thousands of people who have done nothing wrong are being locked up in the UK. We found that in many cases there was no apparent reason to detain people.
Maeve Sherlock concurred saying: “Many refugees come to the UK having been imprisoned in their home countries. It is enormously damaging for them to then be locked up here in the UK, the country they believed would offer them safety.
“Today marks the beginning of Refugee Week, when we celebrate the positive contribution refugees make to the UK and also reflect on why people seek sanctuary here. It can’t be right to lock people up simply because they have asked for safety here – seeking asylum is not a crime.”
Health of detainees
The issue of detention and its effect on those detained has been a focus of charities such as the Refugee Council for some time. The Amnesty report revealed that these concerns have been well founded.
Many of those interviewed by Amnesty told of the misery and psychological harm detention had caused. One interviewee said “I never had mental problems before being detained in the UK. I felt like I was losing my mind.”
They also told stories of being treated inhumanely and shunted around from one detention facility to another. Eveline, a woman claiming asylum from an African country where she had been persecuted for her political activities, was detained for 6 months in the UK, despite being 3 months pregnant and having a very young child.
She was moved from one detention centre to another, even though her child was sick. Eventually she miscarried. She had shown no risk of absconding and had always complied with reporting requirements. Eveline now has refugee status.
The report is released at the start of Refugee Week on International Refugee Day. Amnesty International has also released three further reports on detention of people who have sought asylum in Australia, Italy and Spain.
Read the Refugee Council Statement in full.