Britain jails 1000 innocent refugees

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED Nations has formally complained to Home Secretary Jack Straw that 1,000 asylum seekers are being thrown into British jails each year simply because they pass through London airports on their way to other countries.

The asylum seekers are criminally prosecuted because they have used false identity papers to flee their country of origin.

Although many do not even speak English they are brought before the courts and jailed for up to nine months. Most end up in Wormwood Scrubs, which was castigated for its appalling conditions by the chief inspector of prisons recently.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has written to Mr Straw protesting that the current system of prosecuting asylum seekers is a breach of article 31 of the UN convention on refugees, which allows genuine asylum seekers to travel on false documents without being treated as criminals.

Last week the Crown Prosecution Service told its chief prosecutors not to proceed with outstanding prosecutions against such people. The decision follows comments by Lord Justice Simon Brown in the Divisional Court this month who said at the end of a judicial review of such cases that "there will be people in prison who should not be". A final judgment in the judicial review is expected next week and could have major implications for Mr Straw's Immigration and Asylum Bill, which has already run into storms of protest.

On Friday, a ruling by a panel of judges in the Court of Appeal, preventing Britain from returning asylum seekers who had arrived from France and Germany claiming persecution in their home country by people other than the state, threw the Bill into chaos. An unfavourable judgment at the Divisional Court would jeopardise another clause of Mr Straw's Bill, which allows for the prosecution of refugees who seek to enter Britain by deception.

The three cases considered in the judicial review include that of Astrit Kaziu, 27, a former bodyguard to former President Berisha of Albania.

Kaziu and his wife Eglantina were arrested at Heathrow Airport on their way from Athens to seek asylum in Canada. They were both convicted under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981 of obtaining services, namely an air flight, by deception and sentenced to six months. Kaziu was sent to Wormwood Scrubs, while his wife was detained at Holloway women's prison.

Kaziu is awaiting a decision on whether he will be accepted as a refugee. In Albania he survived two attempts on his life. He escaped to Greece after a warrant was issued for his arrest, claiming he tried to organise a coup while taking part in a pro-Democratic Party demonstration.

Solicitor Fiona Lindsley, representing Kaziu, said: "It is inappropriate that we should be prosecuting, much less imprisoning, people when they have genuine claims for asylum."

Lyndall Sachs, of the UNHCR, said: "Sometimes you have to resort to deception to get out of a country safely. We have written to the Government expressing our grave concern about this potential violation of asylum seekers' rights."