Standards for asylum seekers

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From Mrs Antonia Hunt and Dr M. Louise Pirouet

Sir: You reported (£22m in migrant fines uncollected, 22 February) on the National Audit Office's investigation entitled Entry into the United Kingdom. Charter 87 for Refugees supports the recommendation that the Immigration Service should develop minimum standards for the care of asylum seekers who are held in detention.

At Manchester Airport detainees may be held without charge or trial for up to five days in underground cells with no source of natural light. Some other accommodation is also unsatisfactory. We support the recommendation that there should be better means of keeping detained asylum seekers informed about the progress of their cases, and that immigration officers who go to detention centres and prisons to conduct surgeries should be properly briefed on the cases they will have to deal with.

But other important matters did not come within the NAO remit. The Minister, Nicholas Baker, is still resisting giving detainees written reasons for their detention. It would be too expensive to translate these into the detainees' languages, he says. How about giving them in English, in that case? Until this is done, the detainee cannot challenge the correctness of his detention.

Nor could the NAO investigate the detention review process. This is internal to the Home Office, and immigration officers are failing to act when people are detained for reasons which do not comply with the Home Office's own instructions. Nor is there a time limit on detention. Some people have been held for 18 months, one for 22 months.

If written reasons were given and there were a proper process of reviewing detention, the shortage of detention spaces which the NAO notices would be overcome at a stroke. Yours faithfully,

ANTONIA HUNT

M. LOUISE PIROUET

Co-ordinators

Charter 87 for Refugees

23 February

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