Letter: Government policy on Yugoslav asylum seekers

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The Independent Online
Sir: 'After what he had been through . . . to lock him up in a cell like a criminal was disgusting.' The Independent highlighted this complaint about a refugee from Yugoslavia. 'He could not stand it. The prison was driving him crazy.' Many Britons have visited Yugoslavia, and we are rightly shocked that when someone flees the ethnic cleansing there, he should be put in prison when he seeks refuge in our country.

But people seeking asylum in Britain always run the risk of spending time in detention or prison. More than one has been detained for 18 months or longer. There are up to 300 people detained or imprisoned at any one time, and the Government is planning to open several new detention centres.

It does indeed drive people crazy, sometimes to the extent of trying to commit suicide. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees deplores the detention of asylum- seekers, and in particular says that if they are detained, they should not be held together with 'common criminals' or with other immigration detainees. But you will today find asylum seekers in Pentonville and other prisons as well as in special detention centres.

If the Yugoslav crisis serves to highlight the cruelty of detaining asylum seekers, and public outrage can bring pressure on the Government to respond more humanely to them, then perhaps one small piece of good will have come out of these horrifying events.

Yours faithfully,

M. LOUISE PIROUET

Co-ordinator - Charter 87

for Refugees

Cambridge

12 August

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