Archbishop backs detention for asylum-seekers

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, stunned his liberal admirers yesterday by appearing to back the idea of secure accommodation centres for asylum-seekers.

The new head of the Church of England said it was "perfectly reasonable" to consider using the centres as long as they were properly resourced, turned around applications quickly and didn't turn into prison camps.

When balancing human rights against the need for security, it had to be remembered that "it only takes a small number of terrorists" to pose a danger to society, Dr Williams said.

The Archbishop's remarks were immediately criticised by civil liberties and refugee groups as "unhelpful" and "not sensible". A British Medical Association representative said the idea of detention was "inhumane".

Dr Williams said inThe Sunday Times that asylum-seekers could be seen as a "foreign presence" unless their introduction to a community was accompanied by linguistic, cultural and other help. Echoing Iain Duncan Smith's recent warnings about the risk of terrorists abusing the asylum system, he said: "There's got to be a security agenda. The challenge for any responsible government is to be absolutely serious about security."

Lambeth Palace later pointed out that the Archbishop had not backed routine detention and had simply said it was "legitimate" to consider the issue.

Dr Michael Wilks, the British Medical Association representative on the Asylum Coalition, said: "It is inhumane to lock up these people, many of whom have been victims of torture. Many of these people require medical care, something that the Department of Health and Home Office have inadequately provided."

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