Detention Action adds weight to criticism of detention of asylum seekers.

The latest report from the Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), John Vine, focuses on the Detained Fast Track, a process which detains asylum seekers in prison-like detention centres while their asylum claims are being processed. Campaigners say that the Inspector has failed to grasp the key dysfunctions of the system.

The Chief Inspector found that 73% of people who were refused asylum were removed from the UK but that the system was not working as quickly as possible, with decisions not being made until after 13 days. The evidence of Detention Action, a support and campaigning organisation that works with people in immigration detention centres, similarly shows that many people spend nearly two weeks waiting to be allocated a solicitor and have their asylum claims heard.  These delays are inexcusable because they take place before the process has even started.  As a result, people are imprisoned in high security centres for the convenience of the government at great cost, without charge or trial.  Once the process starts, decision-making is then too fast to allow people enough time to gather evidence required to support their claims.

Kenneth from Pakistan is currently on the Detained Fast Track system, he said:
“When I claimed asylum, I was put into a cell in the airport for nearly two days.  It was after 24 hours that they interviewed me but it was only a few basic questions so I could only briefly tell them what had happened, not show them any evidence. I didn’t have a lawyer and I don’t understand the asylum system at all, but I came to the UK for justice and protection but I was put in prison-like place called Harmondsworth immigration removal centre. I didn’t know what was going on or what was going to happen.  I was given a solicitor after days of being locked up. I only had half an hour with them before a long interview. I was refused the next day.”

Detention Action agrees that the screening process is insufficient to determine whether torture or trafficking victims are wrongly placed on the Fast Track. The experience of Detention Action clients suggests that this is systematic problem which will require a significant overhaul of the process. One person told Detention Action that he offered to show scars from torture to the UKBA staff in both the screening and full asylum interviews, but was told this was not necessary. But he was refused asylum on the grounds that the Home Office did not believe that he had been tortured.  Days later he was removed from the country before he could submit more evidence, such as photographs of his wounds.

Jerome Phelps, Director of Detention Action said:

“The government policy of routinely depriving people of their liberty for weeks and months simply for claiming asylum for the government’s administrative convenience is one that must be abolished. It is outdated, unfair and expensive. Locking up asylum seekers in high security detention centres is not needed for a fast asylum process and needlessly costs people their freedom and the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Inspector’s report shows signs of grappling with the complexities of the injustice but a deeper review must be carried out to ensure that this flawed system is properly scrutinised.”