Letter: Asylum seekers driven to despair

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The Independent Online
Sir: Once again there has been a major incident among detained asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. In March, there was a massive hunger strike; in May there was a large-scale demonstration at Hasler. Now we have riot at Campsfield House, sparked off by the deportation of an Algerian who was trying to escape from forcible recruitment by extremists in his own country.

Why have there been all these incidents? Because asylum seekers have lost hope.

Since the new Asylum Act came into force last July, there has been a huge rise in the proportion of people being refused asylum and in the number detained. Those in detention have no statutory right to know why they are detained; bail is virtually unobtainable.

Moreover, those detained have their asylum applications filled in for them by immigration officers instead of with help from a legal adviser. Because they are less well able to present their cases, detainees are more easily refused asylum.

The result is despair and panic. Some have responded by attempting suicide, several have escaped, others not even in detention have been too frightened to turn up for Home Office interviews. If they are caught, they will be deported, but they are likely to be deported anyway, and if they escape from detention or otherwise disappear into London's or Birmingham's millions, they may avoid capture.

So not only is the new harshness the direct cause of the incidents in detention centres, it is also backfiring in that it is creating illegal immigrants.

Charter '87 does not support riots or hunger strikes, but fully understands why asylum seekers feel driven to take such action, and calls on the Government to rethink its policies.

Yours faithfully,


Charter '87


6 June