Letter: Asylum-seekers starved of rights

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your reports on the current wave of hunger strikes among detained asylum-seekers (17 and 18 March) highlight, once again, the Home Office's blatant disregard for fundamental human rights norms.

All of the more than 700 men and women now detained are held on the basis of a cursory examination by an Immigration Officer, acting alone and without accountability to any court or independent review body. While some are held in specialist Immigration Service detention centres, such as Campsfield House near Oxford, at least 200 are held on the remand wings of prisons, including Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs, where 'slopping out' is still required and where the general conditions are appalling.

None of the detainees has been told the specific reasons for his or her detention, and many have no right to seek bail. And even those with a right to seek bail are unlikely to exercise it, because they are unable to provide the pounds 5,000 or more of bail sureties that are invariably demanded (by the Immigration Appeals Authority). As a result, many have spent six months or more in confinement without any independent scrutiny of their situation, and it is not surprising that this has led to intense levels of frustration and resentment.

Such practice is in violation of international human rights standards, such as Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, and recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These clearly provide that, in the exceptional event that it is necessary to detain an asylum-seeker pending the determination of his or her asylum claim, the detainee should be provided with a full statement of the reasons for his or her detention; should be able to challenge those reasons before an independent review body; and should be held in special facilities appropriate to his or her status, not with people who have been charged or convicted of criminal offences.

Since 14 March, at least 20 detainees have been transferred from Campsfield House to various prisons throughout the country. In most, if not all, of these cases the detainees' legal representatives were not informed of their transfer, and in at least one case Group 4 staff at Campsfield refused to tell a detainee's legal representative where he had been transferred to. Such action clearly has the effect - if not the intention - of obstructing detainees' access to legal representation.

Amnesty International has called upon successive Home Secretaries to bring an end to such malpractice. As long ago as November 1990 we published a report, United Kingdom: Deficient Policy & Practice for the Protection of Asylum- Seekers, making specific recommendations for change. Regrettably, to date, none of these recommendations has been accepted by ministers and responsibility for the current mass hunger strike - with all its attendant risk of disaster - therefore lies squarely with the Government.

Yours faithfully,

RICHARD DUNSTAN

Refugee Office

Amnesty International

London, EC1

18 March

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