Refugees in prison despite Blunkett pledge

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One hundred and thirty asylum-seekers are being held in prison despite a pledge by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, to abolish the practice of incarcerating refugees.

Many are behind bars because the Government has not arranged for them to be deported, they do not have genuine documents or there are fears they may abscond.

Refugee groups and opposition MPs have protested, saying that it is immoral to mix asylum-seekers with criminals. They said asylum-seekers were being dumped on the prison system despite the misgivings of prison officers and the risk to their welfare.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the practice was "murky and unaccountable" and accused Mr Blunkett of breaking a pledge, made in 2001, that asylum-seekers would not be housed in prisons other than in in exceptional circumstances. Mr Hughes said the Government refused to answer questions about the welfare of detainees.

The Home Office said yesterday: "The reason we keep them in prison is because there is a high level of security." A spokeswoman said some asylum-seekers were being sent to prison rather than a detention centre because it was believed they could be disruptive.

In one case, an asylum-seeker sentenced to several weeks for an offence was still behind bars nine months later because the immigration service had not dealt with his case.

Tim Baster, of Bail for Immigration Detainees, said refugees in prison had no rights to bail or access to legal help. "It's absurd that people often fleeing being thrown into prison in their own country are put in prison here."

A spokesman for the Refugee Council said: "No one could argue that keeping an asylum-seeker in prison is excusable."