Letter: Asylum-seekers on hunger strikes

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The Independent Online
Sir: You report today ('Inquiry call on asylum-seekers', 15 March) the call by Graham Allen, MP, for an inquiry into the unrest and hunger strikes among asylum- seekers at Campsfield House detention centre near Oxford. Mr Allen rightly calls for the whole policy of detaining asylum-seekers to be investigated.

The number of people seeking asylum who are detained has risen from about 200 at the beginning of 1993 to 720 in mid-February. Many of these are detained in ordinary prisons, where prison officers are being diverted from their proper responsibilities to look after them. About 33 people between 18 and 21 years of age are detained at Dover Young Offenders Institution.

Hunger strikes plague not only Campsfield House, but also Harmondsworth detention centre, Haslar, a prison near Gosport used solely for immigration detainees who include many asylum-seekers, High Down Prison and Pentonville, where dozens of asylum-seekers are regularly imprisoned. In Pentonville groups and individuals have been refusing not only food, but also fluids. Some have become so ill that they have had to be released. We are concerned at reports that those detained may include people who have fled from torture in their own countries.

Detainees have no statutory right to know why they are detained. If a reason is given, it is generally that an immigration officer believes that if they are given temporary admission, they will not adhere to the terms set. In other words, they are detained on mere suspicion. Continuing detention is reviewed, not by magistrates or by an impartial body, but by Home Office officials. It is high time that the injustices built into the system of detention were inquired into and removed. The Home Office can expect continuing trouble if they are not.

Yours faithfully,

M. LOUISE PIROUET

Charter '87

Cambridge

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