LETTER : Minister defends asylum policy

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Sir: Contrary to the views expressed by Polly Toynbee in her article and Jan Shaw of Amnesty International in her letter, both of 5 February, asylum seekers are not "arbitrarily detained" without "legal remedy" while their cases are being processed.

Detention is used in less than 1.5 per cent of asylum cases and only where there is good reason to suspect that those concerned will not turn up for interview or leave the United Kingdom when required. The overwhelming majority of those in detention - some 75 to 80 per cent - have already had their asylum applications considered and refused, so it is simply wrong to suggest that we routinely detain people as soon as they claim asylum.

Indeed, many will have had their appeals - by independent adjudicators - rejected and will be awaiting removal or deportation.

Detention is only authorised by chief immigration officers and all cases are reviewed on a regular basis at an increasingly senior level. All detainees are told the reason for their detention and know that their cases are kept regularly under review by the Immigration Service. They are able to apply to the courts for bail after seven days and it is also open to them to apply for a writ of habeas corpus or seek judicial review, as indeed some of those on hunger strike at Rochester have already unsuccessfully done.

ANN WIDDECOMBE

Minister of State

Home Office

London SW1

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