Man held five years in immigration detention

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An asylum-seeker has been held in a Home Office detention centre for almost five years, according to an official report published yesterday.

The man, who is not named, was detained on 16 August 1990 and told he would be deported. He formally applied for asylum and has since been through the High Court, Court of Appeal and House of Lords fighting his case. He has an appeal pending before the European Commission on Human Rights.

The Home Office refused to identify him, but he is believed to be Karamjit Singh Chahal, a Sikh who arrived from India.

Richard Wilson, permanent secretary at the Home Office, told the Commons Public Accounts Committee in a memorandum released with the committee's report on border controls in Britain, that this was one of 70 cases where would-be immigrants had been detained for more than 12 months in the year to February 1995. Of the 70, only three have been allowed to stay in Britain.

Mr Wilson also revealed that it cost pounds 77 a night to keep a detainee at a Home Office immigration centre. However, if the detainee is held at a police station, the cost rises sharply - from pounds 226 in the Thames Valley division to pounds 874 in Bedfordshire. The MPs criticised the six detention centres run by the Immigration Service. They house 342 people but, the committee reported, "the quality of some of this accommodation is poor". A total of 800 people are in detention, costing - the Home Office said - pounds 8m a year.

The committee was concerned about waiting times for non-European Union passport-holders at Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

British Airways and the Air Transport Users' Council had written to the committee complaining about some passengers being made to wait more than a hour to have their passports checked.

In its letter, BA said the problem was most acute during the morning peak at Heathrow's Terminal 4: "We have evidence which confirms that some passengers are waiting in excess of one hour, at the same time that more than half the avail- able immigration desks remain unmanned."

In a statement yesterday, the Home Office said information on people suspected of not being entitled to enter Britain, was now held on computer at 23 points of entry, speeding up queuing times and making the process more efficient.

Detention accommodation was being upgraded and 173 new beds would be added by 1997.

The need is growing all the time. Last year, the number of illegal immigrants caught by officials rose 79 per cent to 1,742.

At air and sea ports and now Waterloo railway station in London, immigration officers have a list of 340,000 names of people to be refused entry.

Mr Wilson told the committee his staff had detected 30 per cent more forged documents last year than previously.

Under the Carriers Liability Act 1987, airlines, ferry operators and now the Eurostar Channel train service are liable to pay pounds 2,000 for each passenger without proper entry papers. MPs found the Government had been slow to collect the money: by the end of 1993, some pounds 22m of the pounds 62m levied since 1987 was still outstanding.

The Home Office said it had now adopted "a more rigorous" approach to recovering the debts.