Lord Ramsbotham: Issue is no less than whether we are a civilised country

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The Independent Online

In 1997, when I was HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, I was given the responsibility of inspecting what were then called Immigration Detention Centres, which contained asylum seekers whose applications were being investigated. These were almost invariably run by private security companies, on contract. The inspectorate then embarked on trying to improve the way in which they were run.

In 2006 I was asked to join the Independent Asylum Commission, which was inquiring into national policies on asylum. One of the key findings was the need to restore public confidence that asylum policies were in keeping with British values on sanctuary.

I was also approached to forward a dossier called "Outsourcing Abuse", containing allegations of abuse against asylum seekers during their detention or deportation, seeking their proper investigation. I warmly welcomed the then Home Secretary's immediate response, namely to appoint Dame Nuala O'Loan to investigate them.

At first sight therefore it might be presumed that I would be concerned that Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, while welcoming the recommendations, also says that no systematic abuse had been found. But my immediate reaction is one of gratitude that, through the very clear recommendations for improvement in processes within the UKBA she has created a platform for an action plan.

The bottom line is that any claim we make to be a civilised country should be verified by the way we treat those who seek sanctuary here. If the action plan results in change the allegations contained in "Outsourcing Abuse" will have had a positive effect, which is why they were put forward in the first place.

Lord Ramsbotham is a former Chief Inspector of Prisons