Letter: Our refugee shame

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Natasha Walter's article is a distortion of the truth.

It is not my task to discuss the principles of detention for asylum seekers, but it is the task of a visiting committee, whose role is similar to that of boards of visitors in prisons, to satisfy itself that the regime for those detained is humane and as comfortable as reasonably possible. Members have unlimited access to the detention centres and their reluctant guests.

Contrary to Natasha Walter's assertion, there is adequate provision for detainees to access the legal and counselling services they need, and it is a pity that she did not talk to any of the half a dozen or so voluntary organisations that provide regular, direct, and free support to a very high standard.

There is not the slightest evidence available to us to support the claims that some staff at Tinsley House display a vindictive attitude to detainees, or that the detainees complain of the boring food. One wonders how many detainees your reporter spoke to of the 150 who are normally detained at any one time (she refers to just two).

Of course she could find an individual ready to make trouble in the mistaken belief that it might help his or her case for release, but as a general statement of conditions for detainees it is simply not true.

There is plenty of scope for criticising the present government's policy towards asylum seekers, but making sweeping and unsubstantiated allegations of ill-treatment of detainees does nothing to advance the cause to which she claims to be devoted.

BOB TOMLIN

Vice-Chairman, Tinsley House Visiting Committee

Caterham, Surrey

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