Illicit detention : LETTERS

From Ms Antonia Hunt and Dr M. Louise Pirouet Sir: You report ("Asylum seekers unlawfully held", 20 January) both a High Court judgement that the detention of asylum seekers under certain sections of the 1971 Immigration Act is illegal and the submissionmade by Liberty to the European Commission on Human Rights about abuses of human rights by the Home Office in asylum and immigration cases. This report includes mention of detention.

Both Amnesty International and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture have recently published reports highlighting the injustice of the way in which asylum seekers are detained, sometimes for very long periods, with no recourse to the courts.

Added to this is the fact that, in many cases, the Immigration Service is disobeying its own instructions when it detains asylum seekers. The instructions, recently obtained from the Home Office, state, among other things, that asylum seekers should not normally be detained until their application has been decided and all appeal rights have been exhausted, because they are not likely to abscond so long as they have a hope of finding refuge. Many people are currently detained for months while they await decisions on their cases.

The instructions also insist that vague reasons for detention, such as mere suspicion that the asylum seeker might not comply with the terms of temporary admission, are not adequate. But detention on mere suspicion is the rule rather than the exception at present.

Not only does it appear that the Home Secretary may be in breach of the law and is countenancing abuses of human rights; he is also falling to get the Immigration Service to obey its own instructions. It is high time that just and humane procedures were introduced for asylum seekers, and that the Home Secretary took a proper grip on his own Department.

Yours faithfully, Antonia Hunt M. Louise Pirouet Charter 87 for Refugees Cambridge