Sir: It is a sorry state of affairs when asylum-seekers in Rochester prison have to resort to a hunger strike to draw the attention of the public to the arbitrary and often prolonged detention of asylum-seekers.
Recent statements by Home Office Minister Ann Widdecombe have been inaccurate. First, she has contended that all decisions to detain asylum-seekers are subject to judicial process including appeal, but, in violation of international human rights standards, those detained may be held indefinitely, are not properly informed of the reasons for their detention and have no effective opportunity to challenge those reasons before a court.
Secondly, she has said that those asylum-seekers are detained because they have not convinced the Home Office of their claim to asylum. This implies that only rejected asylum-seekers are detained. A recent survey by Amnesty International demonstrated that in the vast majority of cases the decision to detain is taken when the individual is just entering the asylum process.
For some 10 years, Amnesty has repeatedly called on the Government to review its practice of arbitrarily detaining asylum-seekers whilst their claims are processed. While the majority of people seeking asylum in the UK are admitted temporarily, pending determination of their claim, there are more than 750 asylum-seekers detained at any one time on the authority of the immigration officer, under the powers of the Immigration Act 1971.
The UK is the only European Union country where asylum-seekers are held in detention for often lengthy of periods of time with no effective legal remedy, their only "crime" being that they have applied for asylum.
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