Refugees will be segregated in camps

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The Independent Online

Refugee women and children will be separated from men when they arrive at a new asylum-seekers' detention camp run by Group 4, the Home Office has decided.

Human right groups were horrified at the decision to segregate families. They said it was in breach of the UN Convention on Human Rights and a reminder to the families of methods employed by authorities in their own countries prior to atrocities.

Keith Best, director of the Immigration Advisory Service and a former Conservative MP, said: "It is entirely wrong to do this. We know that Group 4 does not torture people, but if you have just come from Afghanistan and the last time you saw wives and children taken out it was to be shot, then it is terrifying for people to be separated in this way."

The new hardline policy will be introduced at Oakington Barracks, Cambridgeshire which opens tomorrow. The camp is expected to process up to 1,300 asylum seekers a year and can house up to 400 in dormitory bedrooms. Detainees will be kept under guard behind fences and barbed wire, but there will be a library, restaurant, satellite television, gym and tennis courts.

A Home Office spokesman said the segregation decision had been taken to protect the safety of other women at Oakington. "Husbands will be in single accommodation but there is no prohibition on families eating or socialising together."

Patrick Lewis, a leading barrister and expert on immigration law, said: "It is an interference under human rights law. It would be up to the Home Office to justify its actions. It should have provision for families to be together. The failure to do so is unjustifiable."

Refugee welfare groups claim that more than 2,500 vulnerable refugee children are being denied their legal right to a school place. An investigation by the Refugee Council showed that many young asylum seekers have been rejected by head teachers who fear the new pupils will damage the schools' positions in the league tables.

Many of the 2,500 asylum children without places in Britain are in London. At least 350 are in Haringey, 90 in Enfield and another 150 are in Lambeth. Jill Rutter, an education advisor for the Refugee Council, said it had already challenged individual cases where refugee children had been denied places but the situation was getting worse.

"There is pressure on schools in terms of league tables," she said. "They simply say there are not school places when there are school places. They should open other classes but they are not doing this."

The Department of Education said provision had been made for local authorities to educate the children of asylum seekers, but the Local Government Association denied this.